Lockerbie – Scottish government remembers victims and lambasts latest ‘inaccurate re-hashed claims’

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The Scottish Government has commented on the release of a report by four US Senators today concerning the decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds.

The claims by the senators, which are yet again featuring prominently in main news items broadcast and published by the BBC in Scotland, are believed to be based on months old discredited stories.

A spokesman for the Scottish government offered sympathy to those affected by the Pan Am 103 tragedy before lambasting the senator’s fresh claims calling them incorrect, a re-hash that was “devoid of credibility” and false.

Commenting on the senator’s latest claims the spokesperson said:

“Our thoughts and sympathies are with all those affected by the events of December 21, 1988, but most especially the families and relatives wherever they are in the world.

“Scotland’s justice system has been dealing with the Lockerbie atrocity for 22 years, and in every regard the due process of Scots Law has been followed – in terms of the investigation, prosecution, imprisonment, rejection of the prisoner transfer application and granting of compassionate release.

“This is not an official report of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – it is an incorrect and inaccurate re-hash by four Senators of material that has been in the public domain for many months, and we entirely reject their false interpretation.”

The Scottish government spokesperson pointed to official US government acknowledgement that there was no evidence that BP had influenced the decision to release Megrahi.  The spokesperson also drew attention to the private views of the UK government who were keen for Megrahi to be freed but explained that the Scottish government took the decision on the basis of Scots Law.

The spokesperson added:

“The Senators’ original claim was that BP lobbying played a role in the release of Al-Megrahi, and even the Senate Committee hearing that was held in September dismissed that claim, leaving this whole exercise devoid of credibility. Nancy McEldowney, a principal assistant secretary, said that a review of US government records found no evidence that oil company BP sought to secure the early release of Al-Megrahi, and that the State Department has not identified any materials, beyond publicly available statements and correspondence, concerning attempts by BP or other companies to influence matters’ related to Al-Megrahi’s release.

“The Senators then abandoned the BP issue, and discovered what everyone else has always known, namely that the UK Government wanted Al-Megrahi released – as David Miliband said in the House of Commons when he was Foreign Secretary in that last UK Government: ‘We did not want him to die in prison, no, we weren’t seeking his death in prison’ (September 1, 2009).”

The spokesperson went on:

“We know that the former UK Government had a different public position from their private one, and that the US government was fully aware of the pressure being applied to the UK Government. These factors played no role whatever in Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decisions to reject prisoner transfer and grant compassionate release, because the Scottish Government’s only interest was taking a justice decision based on the precepts of Scots Law, which was exactly what was done.”

However the Scottish government spokesperson reserved the most scathing attack for the staffer who had visited Scotland on behalf of the senators accusing the individual of providing information that was untrue and called into question the ability of the senators to be objective adding:

“The Committee hearing was also based on false information provided by the staffer the four Senators sent to Scotland, and given our previous correspondence with them we doubt the ability of the Senators to conduct an objective exercise.

“The Scottish Government has published all the relevant material we hold – except where the necessary permissions were refused by the US and UK administrations. And the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee examined all of the issues in this matter, and rightly concluded that the Justice Secretary’s decision to release Al-Megrahi was taken ‘in good faith’.”

The recent Wikileak revelations deemed by impartial observers to have vindicated the Scottish government’s position on the matter were referred to by the spokesperson who said:

“All of the material validates that position in every single regard – indeed, the recent Wikileak cables support the Scottish Government’s position, but exposed glaring inconsistencies between the public and private stances taken by both the UK and US administrations.

“The Justice Secretary released Al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds and compassionate grounds alone, based on the rules and regulations of Scots Law and the recommendations of the Parole Board for Scotland, the Prison Governor, and the advice of the Scottish Prison Service Director of Health & Care Dr Andrew Fraser – all of which have been published. As Mr MacAskill said at the time, this was his decision and his decision alone, and was not based on political, economic or diplomatic considerations, but on the precepts of Scots Law and nothing else.”

The spokesperson concluded by emphasising the integrity of the Scottish health officials whose input led to the report that the compassionate release decision was ultimately based on.

“The medical report to the Justice Secretary came from Dr Andrew Fraser, Director of Health and Care of the Scottish Prison Service, and the prognosis was his. It was Dr Fraser’s responsibility to prepare the medical report for Mr MacAskill, and Dr Fraser who concluded that his clinical assessment was that a three month prognosis was a reasonable estimate, drawing on the work of a range of specialists and other Scottish Health Service professionals involved in Megrahi’s care from when he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008.

“It is a matter of record that three doctors were hired by the Libyan authorities to assess Al-Megrahi towards the end of his time in prison – Ibrahim Sherif, Karol Sikora and Jonathan Waxman. The well-understood point is that their examinations formed no part of the medical evidence considered by Dr Fraser in coming to his assessment, and therefore by definition formed no part of his report to the Justice Secretary. Their reports were not actually received by Scottish Government officials until four days AFTER Dr Andrew Fraser’s report was submitted to the Justice Secretary, and therefore played no part in Mr MacAskill’s decision on compassionate release. Dr Fraser is a professional of impeccable integrity.

“Given the importance of this case, it was appropriate that the most senior health professional in the Scottish Prison Service, Dr Fraser, was responsible for providing the medical report which formed part of the consideration of the application for compassionate release. With the exception of this point, i.e. the most senior SPS health professional providing the report, this is exactly the same process which has been followed in the over 60 cases considered under the relevant legislation passed in 1993.

“Al-Megrahi was convicted by a Scottish Court, and Scottish Ministers do not doubt the safety of the conviction. He is dying of terminal prostate cancer.”