Labour in complete disarray over Megrahi release

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The Labour party in Scotland are today in total chaos over the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi.

Newsnet Scotland can report that Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson has stated he would have backed the release on compassionate grounds had the medical prognosis of a three month life estimate contained backing from US and EU doctors.


The Labour party in Scotland are today in total chaos over the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi.

Newsnet Scotland can report that Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson has stated he would have backed the release on compassionate grounds had the medical prognosis of a three month life estimate contained backing from US and EU doctors.

The admission from Dr Simpson came in a letter published by online news magazine the Scottish Review.

Dr Simpson says:
“At the time I said that had MacAskill obtained two independent opinions from experts based in the USA and the EU, i.e. independent of Scotland, and had they – independently of each other – concurred on a three month probable life expectancy then the decision would be credible and justifiable and I would have backed compassionate release. (However release to his family in the place they had been staying in Scotland, and not to Libya.)”

The admission from the Labour MSP that he had no objections to the release in principle follows comments from senior Labour MP Diane Abbott who has publicly backed Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release Mr Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

Ms Abbott’s intervention is seen by some as an attempt at creating a distinction between herself and other Labour leadership hopeful David Miliband who recently appeared to perform a ‘U’ turn by attacking the release after previously indicating that he did not want Megrahi to die in a Scottish jail.

The differing messages from Labour politicians is sure to pile pressure on Labour’s Holyrood leader Iain Gray who has always insisted that had he been First Minister then Megrahi would not have been released from Greenock prison.

Iain Gray said at the time:
“If I was First Minister Megrahi would not be going back to Libya. The decision to release him is wrong.”

The decision to release Mr Megrahi on compassionate grounds was taken only after his application for transfer under the PTA, negotiated by Labour, had been refused.

Ian Gray said of the decision to refuse application under the PTA:
“He [Mr MacAskill] rejected the application from Libya to transfer Al Megrahi to a Libyan jail under the prisoner transfer agreement. I agreed with that decision.”

However Mr Gray’s own Justice spokesman Richard Baker has since endorsed the PTA agreement reached after Tony Blair’s infamous deal in the desert in 2007.

Labour has also joined in the attacks on the Scottish doctors who supplied the medical evidence on which Mr MacAskill based his decision.  Iain Gray claimed last week that the medical evidence was “flawed”.

Mr Gray said:
“We’ve always said that medical evidence was flawed, the Scottish government have still refused to publish all the medical evidence but I think as time goes on it becomes increasingly clear that the decision was in fact the wrong one and I think it is time for the Scottish government to admit they made the wrong decision a year ago.”

Medical evidence fair
This claim by Mr Gray has now been undermined by consultant oncologist Grahame Howard who was an external adviser to the Scottish Prison Service before Mr Megrahi’s release.

Mr Howard has confirmed that the medical evidence contained in the application placed before Kenny MacAskill was “a fair reflection” on the specialist advice available and that Megrahi’s condition was “poor” and had deteriorated.

Mr Howard said:
“As an external adviser I was involved in discussions leading up to the point where Mr Megrahi was considered for release on medical grounds.

“The background medical portion of that application is a fair reflection of the specialist advice available at the time.

“The final assessment of prognosis was made by Dr Andrew Fraser taking into account the deterioration in his clinical condition.”

Mr Megrahi has survived for almost a year after the release.  However cancer specialists have acknowledged that it is not unexpected for a patient to respond positively to familiar surroundings and family.  Mr Megrahi has also access to superior cancer treatment in Libya than he would have had in a Scottish prison.

Labour’s politicisation of the Megrahi release now appears to be causing rifts within the party that could have implications as we approach the 2011 Holyrood elections.  Senior Labour MSP, Malcolm Chisholm, has already publicly attacked Iain Gray’s politicisation of the issue.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the release of Mr Megrahi and it is expected that elements of the Scottish media will join the politicised frenzy as opposition politicians up their attempt at making political capital out of the Lockerbie tragedy.

Meanwhile it is being reported that an overwhelming number of Scots supported the Scottish government’s decision not to attend the US Senate hearings.

A survey of 1212 people found that 72% of those asked supported the decision.  The survey also indicated that 76% believe that it was right that the decision on Al Megrahi was made by the Scottish Government, and not the UK.   Only 14% of people thought that lobbying by the oil industry played any part in the decision to release Al Megrahi.

Welcoming the result SNP Depute Leader and Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
“This poll demonstrates overwhelmingly that the people of Scotland believe that the Justice Secretary took the decision for the right reasons, that it was right for the Scottish Government and no one else to take the decision, and that it was right not to answer to a US Senate hearing on the issue.

“The Scottish Government is accountable to the Scottish Parliament and people, and their continued support for the Scottish Government in taking what was clearly a very difficult decision is important and extremely welcome.”

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