MacAskill reiterates denial of deal over al-Megrahi release

02 September 2009

by Pat Ashworth

Under the spotlight: the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, during a visit to Baird Street police station in Glasgow on Tuesday PA

Under the spotlight: the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, during a visit to Baird Street police station in Glasgow on Tuesday PA

THE Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, says he is not troubled by his decision to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

In an interview with today’s Church Times on his return this week from a holiday in Budapest, he describes his decision as “an issue of conscience”. Of the many emails received from Christians in the United States who are opposed to his decision, he says: “There are those who fail to recognise that there is a New Testament as well as an Old Testament.”

His comments come amid the continuing contention surrounding Mr al-Megrahi’s return to Libya. The release by both the British and Scottish governments on Tuesday of papers concerning the fate of the bomber fuelled more allegations of “some kind of a deal” between the British Government and Libya.

One of the papers was a minuted conversation between the former Foreign Office minister, Bill Ram­mell, and his Libyan counterpart, in February. When asked by the Libyans whether the British Government wanted Mr al-Megrahi to die in prison, Mr Rammell had said that the British Government was “not actively seeking” that outcome.

In a BBC interview on Tuesday, Mr Rammell said: “I was making it emphatically clear that this was a decision for Scottish ministers: it was put to me by my Libyan counterpart that they did not wish al-Megrahi to die in prison. In response to that, I said that we were not actively seeking his death in prison, but this had to be a decision for Scottish ministers, and we could not, would not, intervene.”

Mr Rammell said that he had not discussed this with the Prime Minister either before or after the conversation. “Does anybody im­agine that if we had been seeking to subvert the due process, to influence Scottish ministers, that the SNP government wouldn’t have come out with that by now? They haven’t because they can’t.”

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, reiterated to the BBC on Wednesday that the British Govern­ment had not pressured the Scots. Mr MacAskill insists: “Once it was clear that he met the criteria for compassionate release, then it fell to me to make the decision.”

Independent verification of Mr al-Megrahi’s state of health is acknow­ledged to be impossible. Newspapers in Tripoli report that it has deteriorated since his return to Libya. The head of the Libyan State Information Agency, Majid al-Dursi, said in one report: “Only God knows when it will be over. But he is dying now.”

Mr MacAskill describes criticism of his decision to visit Mr al-Megrahi to hear representations as “bizarre”. “I’m not a medical expert: I relied on expert opinion; but he looked to me to be an unwell man.”

Kenny MacAskill interview

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