No regrets for man who freed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi


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The Independent Online

The man who released the Lockerbie bomber from jail has always stood by the decision despite continued protest from critics.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill insisted all along that the release, made under the provisions of Scots law, was taken in good faith.

When Mr MacAskill told the world that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was going home “to die”, he was a lawyer-politician virtually unknown on the world stage.

He kept an uncharacteristically low profile while pondering his decision, but went out of his way to solicit opinion.

Most controversially of all, he visited Megrahi in prison about two weeks before the release on compassionate grounds.

Critics accused him of setting a “ridiculous and unworkable precedent”.

He took soundings from all sides, including British and American relatives and the Libyan government, and heard direct from Hillary Clinton of American unhappiness at the prospect of Megrahi heading home to Libya.

Affable and down to earth, Mr MacAskill is one of the SNP administration's heavyweights and an effective debater.

And his decision - whatever the international critics may have said - appeared to have no negative impact on his political career.

He was returned as MSP for Edinburgh Eastern with an increased majority as part of a landslide victory for the SNP in the Scottish election on May 5. He remains Justice Secretary in First Minister Alex Salmond's government.

But he has also shown an occasional tendency to generate the wrong sort of headlines.

Mr MacAskill, who pushed for a big cut in the numbers of inmates being given short sentences, was criticised when he described life in Scotland's jails as “a bit of a skoosh”.

Long before becoming an MSP, he once referred to the England football team as “the great Satan” during an SNP conference.

More than 10 years ago he was held by police before the Euro 2000 play off against England at Wembley stadium on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly.

The former lawyer spent the duration of the game in the cells but was later released without being charged or cautioned, after what he described as “a simple misunderstanding”.

Mr MacAskill was once tipped as a future party leader and has been a contender for the deputy leadership.

Before Parliament, he worked as a senior partner in an Edinburgh law firm from 1984 to 2000.

In his earlier years he was viewed as one of the SNP's “fundamentalists,” critical of more gradual approaches to independence.

A left winger, he was among those calling for a policy overhaul after the first Scottish Parliament election in 1999, and for the party to move away from socialism towards a more business-friendly outlook.

Before Holyrood, he stood four times at Westminster - first in 1983 against Labour's Robin Cook in Livingston.

He was elected a Lothians list MSP in 1999 and 2003, before winning Edinburgh East and Musselburgh seat from Labour at the 2007 election.