South Scotland

Scots will not attend US hearing on Lockerbie bomber

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi
Image caption Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was released after consultants said he had three months to live

Scottish ministers and officials have turned down a request to attend a US Senate hearing next week over the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and the Scottish Prison Service's medical chief Dr Andrew Fraser were invited.

Senators also invited Westminster former justice secretary Jack Straw.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward was asked to attend after allegations that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi's release was linked to an oil deal.

Megrahi was jailed for life for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 which killed 270 people, most of them Americans.

He was released by the Scottish government in August 2009 and allowed to return to Libya on compassionate grounds, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The Scottish government maintains that the release was solely because of Megrahi's terminal illness and had nothing to do with a prisoner transfer agreement between the UK government and Libya.

The US Senate believes BP lobbied for Megrahi's release in order to get an oil deal in Libya.

It was reported that former UK prime minister Tony Blair had been invited to the US Senate foreign relations committee hearing, but the committee has apologised that a draft letter to Mr Blair was published in error. A committee spokesman has since said Mr Blair will not be invited to appear.

Mr Straw said: "Before coming to any decision as to whether to accept this invitation, I shall be consulting Gordon Brown, as prime minister at the time, and seeking the advice of the Foreign Office."

A BP spokesman said: "We have received the invitation and we are considering it."

A spokesperson for the Scottish government confirmed that the invitation to Mr MacAskill and Dr Fraser had been turned down.

The Senate hoped the two men would testify on Capitol Hill on 29 July.

The spokesperson added: "Since the Lockerbie atrocity in 1988, all matters regarding the investigation, prosecution and compassionate release decision have been conducted according to the jurisdiction and laws of Scotland.

"Clearly, the Senate Committee has responsibility to scrutinise decisions taken within the US system, and Scottish ministers and public officials are accountable within the Scottish Parliament system. That is the constitutional basis of our democracies.

"The Scottish Parliament's justice committee has already undertaken a full inquiry into the decision on compassionate release, and the Westminster Scottish affairs committee has also examined the issue in terms of the formal inter-governmental relations that exist within the UK. That is right and proper."

The spokesperson also said the Scottish government would be happy to supply further written evidence to the US Senate.

The decision not to attend was criticised by Labour's Holyrood justice spokesman Richard Baker.

He told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "I think it speaks volumes about the lack of confidence he has now in his own decision that he is running a mile from any scrutiny of it."

He said it was "perfectly legitimate" for US senators to ask Mr MacAskill to travel to Washington and answer questions.

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