Scotland

Minister stands by release of Lockerbie bomber Megrahi

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has defended his decision to free the convicted Lockerbie bomber, almost a year after his release.

Terminally-ill Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi left Scotland to return home to Libya on 20 August, 2009, after doctors said he may have three months to live.

Megrahi is still alive, but Mr MacAskill said there was a clear indication he was terminally ill.

The Libyan was convicted of the 1988 bombing of American Pan Am flight 103.

The terrorist atrocity caused the death of 270 people and the Scottish government's decision to free Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, from Greenock Prison has sharply divided opinion at home and abroad.

He arrived into Tripoli Airport to jubilant scenes and some US victims' families reacted angrily to the decision.

In an interview with BBC Scotland, Mr MacAskill said he acted on the basis of the medical evidence provided.

And, amid claims the release on compassionate grounds was linked to oil deals with Libya, the justice secretary insisted the move was not based on economic, political, or diplomatic considerations.

The justice secretary said he was prepared to meet US senator Robert Menendez, who is investigating his decision, saying the Scottish government had "nothing to fear" from the Senate foreign relations committee inquiry.

When asked if Megrahi would have been released had it been known he would be alive a year on, the government minister said: "Well he wouldn't have met the criteria and, accordingly the decision would not have been made.

"To make the eligibility for the criteria, you have to come within the three-month prognosis.

US president Barack Obama said the decision to free him was "a mistake" and UK Prime Minister David Cameron has also criticised the move.

Mr MacAskill has always maintained the decision to release Megrahi followed due process and was in keeping with the ideals of the Scottish justice system.

He made his decision after receiving medical advice from Dr Andrew Fraser, director of health at the Scottish Prison Service, that a three-month prognosis for the bomber to live was a "reasonable estimate".

Mr MacAskill said the advice "clearly indicated" Megrahi was terminally ill, adding that the rules required the medical report come from the prison service, even though Dr Fraser is a non-specialist.

Mr MacAskill said: "It was the right decision for the right reasons.

"It's a privilege to be the justice secretary for the government of Scotland but the post brings with it responsibility.

"I said last year probably no harder decision has had to be made than the decision that had to be made by me last year, but it was my responsibility - it would have been a dereliction of my duty to have avoided that and I stand by the decision.

"It's not a matter of regrets, it's a matter of responsibility.

Image caption Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi left Scotland for Libya almost a year ago, following his release from prison

"I had to make that decision, I followed the rules and guidance which said I had to look at the medical report from the prison service, the parole board and indeed from the prison governor.

"They all recommended that release should be granted that the criteria of three months prognosis of death had been met."

Mr MacAskill said that although he was not a clinician he had acted on the basis of the evidence provided and he had followed the rules.

When asked if Megrahi would have been released had it been known he would be alive a year on, the government minister said: "Well he wouldn't have met the criteria and, accordingly the decision would not have been made.

"To make the eligibility for the criteria, you have to come within the three-month prognosis.

"Clearly though, these matters are not an exact science and it's quite clear that all those involved in this acted in good faith. I said at the time he may live longer, he may die sooner.

"It's self evident he has lived longer, but what is certainly undeniable is that he is a sick man, terminally ill with prostate cancer."

'Nothing to fear'

Re-stating the basis for his decision, Mr MacAskill said: "This was not based on political, economic or diplomatic considerations, whether from Libya, whether from the United States, whether from within Scotland or without.

"It was based on following the rules and guidance set down in the Prisoner and Criminal Proceedings Act 1993 and the prison guidance that has been changed since then."

The minister said: "I'm aware and I was aware at the time that this decision would divide.

"There was no consensus possible. Some agree with it, some disagree with it. I respect the right of the senators to make inquiries, but the government of Scotland has nothing to fear."

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