Kenny MacAskill: I stand by Lockerbie decision

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by Ben Borland, Sunday Express

KENNY MACASKILL yesterday broke his recent silence over the continuing Lockerbie saga and insisted he stood by his controversial decision to free the bomber.

In an exclusive hard-hitting interview with the Sunday Express, the defiant Justice Secretary insisted he was not involved in any “murky machinations” or deals and accused Scottish Labour of “astonishing hypocrisy”.

He also categorically denied that he had been swayed by “economic, diplomatic, or any other considerations” and said he acted in an “open and honest way” at all times.

And in a move designed to end conspiracy theories surrounding the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, Mr MacAskill said he planned to press ahead with changes to the law that would allow secret papers relating to Libyan’s appeal to be made public.

The Justice Secretary’s intervention in the on-going row puts his career on the line and comes amid mounting anger at the emergence of attempted back room deals ahead of Megrahi’s release in 2009.  Documents released last week sparked accusations Holyrood ministers had brokered agreements with Westminster over air gun powers and legislative change to save millions in compensation for prisoners forced to ‘slop out’.

But Mr MacAskill told the Sunday Express yesterday: “The decision on Megrahi was mine to take and mine alone – and I did so according to the due process and practice of Scots Law, without regard to economic, diplomatic, or any other considerations.

“I rejected the prisoner transfer application, and granted compassionate release. Many people agree with that decision and many disagree, and I respect the views of all the relatives, in all of the 21 countries affected by the atrocity.

“But I hope that everyone accepts I took it in an open and honest way – in stark contrast to the murky machinations of the former UK Labour Government, who we now know changed their policy in secret and did everything they could to facilitate Megrahi’s release for commercial and political reasons.

“And the astonishing hypocrisy of Labour in Scotland who attacked a decision that their own government in London supported.”

Prime Minister David Cameron last week ruled out an inquiry despite a new report showing the previous Labour government had gone out of its way to help Libya in order to secure lucrative oil and military contracts.

In August 2009, Mr MacAskill dismissed Westminster’s favoured prisoner transfer option and instead granted compassionate release to Megrahi, 58, who was said to have less than three months to live with prostate cancer.

He has been criticised ever since, with the convicted terrorist still alive at his home in Tripoli.

Mr MacAskill has now promised to publish full details of the 2007 Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) ruling Megrahi may have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

The father-of-five was granted leave to appeal by the courts watchdog but was struck by illness and dropped the bid shortly before his release.

Mr MacAskill, who has rarely spoken publicly about the decision that will define his career, said: “We should be proud of our justice system in Scotland. We have nothing to hide – that is why I will publish a Bill soon in the new Parliament so that we can make this further report available.

“I believe that Megrahi was guilty, but I accept that many do not. We will never all agree on these matters, but I hope we can agree that no one in Scotland should have anything to fear from having the maximum possible information about this issue in the public domain.”

Campaigners described Mr Mac-Askill’s acknowledgment that many do not believe Megrahi was behind the 1988 disaster – in which 270 people were killed – as a significant development.

Dr Jim Swire, whose 24-year-old daughter, Flora, died in the bombing, said: “Both MacAskill and Salmond have always stuck to the mantra that they absolutely believe in the guilt of Megrahi, although I don’t understand how they can be so sure when the SCCRC has said there may have been a miscarriage of justice.

“This is a very welcome modification acknowledging perhaps for the first time that doubts exist in the community. I think the SCCRC rulings might well be intensely embarrassing to the office of the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office.”

But Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie, writing in today’s Scottish Sunday Express, said there is still evidence the SNP played a major role in the “odious” and “tawdry” deals. She said: “Jack Straw, the former UK Justice Secretary, claims Kenny MacAskill tried to do a deal, linking progress on air guns and slopping out with moves that could pave the way for the Lockerbie bomber to return to Libya. But according to Alex Salmond, this was a merely a huge confusion, just a great big muddle.”

Susan Cohen, of New Jersey, whose 20-year-old daughter Theodora was a victim of the bombing, also reacted with anger to Mr MacAskill’s statement.

She said: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating and in this case it is that Megrahi is still alive. For him to issue the same old statement as if he is some saintly person who made this noble decision, well I don’t know how anybody can believe that.”

 

This article is published here with thanks to the Scottish Sunday Express