MPs to look at effect of Megrahi release on relations with US

A parliamentary inquiry is to examine whether the release of the Lockerbie bomber has damaged Britain's "special relationship" with the United States, The Independent has learnt.

President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have condemned the Scottish government's decision to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who is terminally ill, on compassionate grounds. An inquiry into transatlantic relations by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee had been set up before his release. But its chairman has confirmed that it would now examine the Megrahi decision.

Families of some victims of the bombing said they would use the inquiry to criticise the investigation of the disaster.

Extensive correspondence on the Megrahi release between Holyrood and Whitehall is due to be published today. Yesterday officials were contacting everyone mentioned in more than 100 pages of new documentation. A source familiar with the material said that it would show that the British Government played no part in the decision.

Megrahi's release appeared to break a pledge by the former foreign secretary Robin Cook to Madeleine Albright, his US counterpart, that anyone prosecuted for the attack would be kept in a Scottish prison.

Mike Gapes, Labour chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, confirmed that Lockerbie would be included in the new inquiry, to begin later this year. "We have announced an inquiry into Britain's relationship with the United States," he said. "Undoubtedly, this is one of the issues that may well come up in that."

Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, could be called as a witness. He said that his administration would co-operate with inquiries by "any committee whether of Westminster or the Scottish Parliament".

Jim Swire, whose daughter, Flora, was killed in the bombing, said he would be writing to the inquiry. "The emphasis is shifting from Scotland to the UK Government's involvement," he said. "I don't think anyone should sleep soundly in their beds until we, the relatives, are told why our loved ones were not protected when warnings appeared in advance. It is a transatlantic issue."

The families have until 24 September to make submissions.

It is likely to be the first of several inquiries to consider the fall-out from the Lockerbie decision. Opposition MPs are demanding a separate inquiry examining the role of the British Government.

Yesterday Downing Street said it was "nonsense" to suggest that Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, had decided not to exempt Megrahi from a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya two years ago in order to facilitate trade. A No 10 source said: "This was not our decision. There is no evidence to suggest that we in any way influenced that decision."

The source would not say whether Mr Straw's action was rubber-stamped by Downing Street. "We will not be drawn into giving a running commentary on decisions," the source said. "All decisions are government decisions."

Meanwhile a former British ambassador to Libya said he suspected that a deal had been done over Megrahi, who had dropped his long-running appeal against conviction shortly before he was sent home. "Did somebody tip him the wink or tip the Libyan authorities the wink that the only way to get back to Libya is to give up the appeal?" said Oliver Miles, who was ambassador in Tripoli until relations between Britain and Libya broke down in 1984. "I think he authorised the Libyan officials to say at the appropriate moment he has agreed to give up his appeal."

Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, who made the decision to release Megrahi, said: "My decision was based not on any political, economic or diplomatic considerations. I rejected the prisoner transfer agreement which had been a matter of concern to the American families and American government."