Government 'did not want Lockerbie bomber freed'

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One of Gordon Brown's closest allies suggested today that the Prime Minister had not wanted the Lockerbie bomber freed.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls made the claim despite Libyan negotiators having apparently been told that Mr Brown did not believe Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi should die in prison.

Interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Balls said: "None of us wanted to see the release of al-Megrahi."

But he stressed that the decision to release the bomber on compassionate grounds last month had been the responsibility of the Scottish Government, not Westminster.

Last week Foreign Secretary David Miliband confirmed Libya was told earlier this year that the Prime Minister did not want to see Megrahi die in a Scottish jail.

Mr Brown has declined to explicitly say whether he agreed with the Scottish Government's decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds due to his terminal cancer.

He insisted there had been "no double-dealing" by UK ministers over the release of the convicted bomber.

"There was no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double-dealing, no deal on oil, no attempt to instruct Scottish ministers, no private assurances by me to Colonel Gaddafi," Mr Brown said.

He stopped short of confirming explicitly that he had favoured releasing Megrahi before his death.

But he said: "Did we as a Government say we would try to stop the Scottish Executive and force Megrahi to die in prison? No, we did not do so, and did not have the power to do so - and that was the right thing to do."

This morning Mr Balls said: "I have to say that none of us wanted to see the release of Al Megrahi but that wasn't a judgment made by the British Government, it was a decision made by the Scottish executive."

A Liberal Democrat MP called today for a Commons inquiry into the Megrahi case.

Alistair Carmichael said the Scottish Affairs Committee should call Gordon Brown and Jack Straw to give evidence to an inquiry into the "handling and consequences" of Megrahi's release.

Mr Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, made the call in a letter to the chairman of the committee, Labour MP Mohammad Sarwar.

"The release of Al Megrahi is an issue which strikes at the very interface of government relations between London and Edinburgh," he said.

"Throughout this whole process it has been the families of the victims of Lockerbie who have been worst served.

"As members of the Scottish Affairs Committee, it is our job to ensure a good working relationship between the Governments and it is therefore right we conduct an early inquiry."

Asked about the apparent contradiction, the premier's spokesman said: "The Prime Minister set out the position last week and I do not think I am going to go any further than that."

He added: "The most important part is that this was a decision for the Scottish executive government."