Scotland politics

Kenny MacAskill denies Megrahi Lockerbie release deal

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has denied claims he or the SNP government were involved in a deal over the Lockerbie bomber's release.

A new book claimed ministers urged Abdelbasset al-Megrahi to drop his appeal against conviction in exchange for compassionate release.

But Mr MacAskill told the Scottish Parliament: "These claims are wrong".

Megrahi, who is terminally ill with cancer, was released from prison in Scotland in 2009 by Mr MacAskill.

Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems said there were still unanswered questions on the case, including a decision by the justice secretary to visit Megrahi in prison and details of the medical advice given to the government on the convicted bomber's health before his release.

The Libyan is the only person convicted of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988.

Shortly before being freed, the Libyan dropped his second appeal against conviction.

Mr MacAskill also told MSPs he had again written to UK Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke for assistance in overcoming data protection laws to aid publication of a secret report into an appeal against the conviction.

And, on the issue of any future appeal, Mr MacAskill said it was not an issue for him, but added: "That is a matter I would be entirely comfortable with."

The claim of a possible deal was made in the newly-published biography, "Megrahi: You Are My Jury", by writer, researcher and TV producer John Ashton - a former member of Megrahi's legal team.

In the book, Megrahi claimed he was told it would be easier for him to get early release from prison if he dropped the appeal.

Image caption The Scottish government has categorically denied any involvement in Megrahi dropping his appeal

He said he was told the suggestion came in a private meeting between a Libyan official, Abdulati al-Obedi, and Mr MacAskill.

The justice secretary said the decision to drop the appeal was one for Megrahi and his legal team.

He said: "Minutes of meetings relating to Mr Megrahi were made at the time and have, except where permission was not given by other governments, been published.

"A minute of my meeting with Libyan representatives is one of them. Unlike the claims of recent days, these minutes are not hearsay, but an accurate record made at the time.

"This minute has been in the public domain since September 2009. It is quite clear and refutes the assertions made."

Mr MacAskill said Scottish government officials were present at his meeting with Mr Obeidi, adding: "At no time did I or any other member of the Scottish government suggest to Mr Obeidi, to anyone connected with the Libyan government, or indeed to Mr Megrahi himself, that abandoning his appeal against conviction would in any way aid or affect his application for compassionate release."

Mr MacAskill's appeal to the UK government came as the Scottish government continued moves to see publication of a report previously sent to the appeal court on the case by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

It has never been released, because Megrahi's appeal was dropped, and SNP ministers have asked the Westminster government for an exemption in UK data protection laws under plans to see it put into the public domain.

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