Kenny MacAskill rapped over Lockerbie bomber release

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Indy Politics

The Scottish Justice Secretary was criticised in a parliamentary report today for the way he handled the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

A inquiry by MSPs found fault with the decision by Kenny MacAskill to visit Abdelbaset Al Megrahi in Greenock jail.

The report said the visit to the prison was "inappropriate" and also said a second opinion should have been obtained on the medical evidence which paved the way for the cancer-stricken bomber's release.

MSPs described a "lack of clarity" in the decision to grant compassionate release to the terminally-ill Libyan, who was convicted for the murder of 270 people in the 1988 bombing.

And they also faulted the reasoning behind Mr MacAskill's decision to reject a separate application for prisoner transfer to a Libyan jail.

The Justice Committee report comes two months after Mr MacAskill appeared before the only evidence session of the inquiry.

MSPs on the committee were split along party lines, with the criticism coming from the majority Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat members.

The SNP branded the inquiry a "kangaroo court".

Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken, the committee convener, conceded Mr MacAskill had faced a difficult decision.

But he added: "My own view is that if Mr MacAskill was minded to release this mass murderer it should only have been at the terminal stages of his illness when, for the last week or so, he could have been kept in secure and humane conditions with his family.

"This was a bad decision, made badly and not thought through."

Mr MacAskill's decision to free Megrahi on compassionate grounds last August sparked a political storm.

The Scottish Parliament was recalled and the SNP's opponents demanded an inquiry.

Key areas of contention included the weight of medical evidence which suggested last summer that Megrahi had just three months to live. Almost six months after his release, he is still alive.

The committee's inquiry did not consider whether the Justice Secretary was correct to conclude compassionate release was justified.

The circumstances surrounding the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie were not investigated.

Labour's Holyrood leader, Iain Gray, said: "The decision to release Megrahi was the wrong one and it is also clear that it was after a completely botched process.

"Kenny MacAskill should have properly weighed the seriousness of Megrahi's crime and long sentence against his compassion for Megrahi.

"Mr MacAskill should not have gone to Greenock Prison to have a chat with Scotland's worst mass murderer and he certainly should have obtained a second opinion on the medical evidence."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Justice Secretary followed due process every step of the way and he has repeatedly expressed his deepest sympathy for the relatives of all victims of the Lockerbie atrocity.

"Mr MacAskill's decision to allow Mr al Megrahi to return to Libya to die was based on the medical information about his terminal condition, and the recommendations of the parole board and prison governor."

SNP Justice Committee member Stewart Maxwell said the opposition had turned the committee into a "kangaroo court".

He said: "Parliamentary time and resources have been wasted on what was a political stitch-up by the opposition to push their own partisan prejudices.

"They had made their mind up before we even held this inquiry. The proof of that is the fact they called no other witnesses bar the Cabinet Secretary and his officials.

"The opposition have shown a complete lack of confidence in their own arguments and have tried to turn a respected Parliamentary committee into a kangaroo court."