Libya warned against 'tasteless' Megrahi celebration

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Indy Politics

The UK government warned Libya not to celebrate the return of the Lockerbie bomber today, the first anniversary of his release from a Scottish jail.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was freed from Greenock prison on compassionate grounds on August 20 last year following his diagnosis with terminal prostate cancer.

The bomber returned to jubilant scenes in Libya where he remains alive, despite being given three months to live.

The Government said the decision by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to release the only man convicted of the 1988 Pan Am jet bombing was a mistake.

The Foreign Office warned today that any celebration of his freedom would be "tasteless, offensive and deeply insensitive".

A spokeswoman said: "The Government is clear that Megrahi's release was a mistake.

"Both the current Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made this clear at the time.

"Particularly on this anniversary we understand the continuing anguish that Megrahi's release has caused his victims, both in the UK and the US.

"Any celebration of Megrahi's release will be tasteless, offensive and deeply insensitive to the victims' families.

"We have made our concerns clear to the Libyan government."

The Scottish Government continues to defend the decision to free Megrahi as opponents demand the publication of more medical evidence be published.

US senators want to hold their own inquiry amid concerns that his release was tied to a BP oil deal with Libya - a suggestion that has been strongly denied by all parties involved.

There have been renewed calls for an inquiry into the 2001 conviction itself, with pressure group Justice for Megrahi claiming he may have been the victim of a "spectacular miscarriage of justice."

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said yesterday: "It was a decision I didn't choose to make, it was a decision I had to make.

"It was my responsibility and accordingly I followed the rules and laws of Scotland.

"I acted appropriately and I stand by the decision."

Mr MacAskill granted the compassionate release application based on a report by Scottish Prison Service (SPS) director of health and care Dr Andrew Fraser.

Consultant oncologist Grahame Howard, one of the four doctors whose advice helped inform that report, said: "The background medical portion of that application is a fair reflection of the specialist advice available at the time.

"The final assessment of prognosis was made by Dr Andrew Fraser taking into account the deterioration in his clinical condition."

Labour's leader at Holyrood, Iain Gray MSP, repeated his demand today for an apology from the Justice Secretary to the Scottish Parliament.

He said: "How Kenny MacAskill and Alex Salmond cannot see that this decision was completely flawed is beyond me.

"It's essential that the medical opinions used by Dr Andrew Fraser, the SPS Director of health and care, to come to his three-month prognosis should be published.

"Doctors give evidence in open court every day on medical opinions and it's time that the SNP cover-up over the release of Megrahi was exposed."

Murdo Fraser MSP, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: "We may never know why Alex Salmond and the SNP made their fateful decision to set Megrahi free.

"It might simply have been that they couldn't turn down the chance to grandstand on the world stage.

"But the SNP's stubborn refusal to release all the papers from all the specialists only allows suspicions to grow and conspiracy theories to flourish."

A survey yesterday revealed most Scots believe it was correct that the decision to release the prisoner was made in Scotland and that the SNP administration was right to turn down American requests to attend a senate inquiry.

The SNP-commissioned YouGov poll of 1,212 people showed 72% agreed they were right not to attend.

A total of 14% thought lobbying by BP played a part in Megrahi's release, while 54% agreed with the Scottish Government that he was released "solely in line with Scots law".

And 76% said it was proper that the decision on whether to release Megrahi was made by the Scottish justice secretary, not a minister in the UK government.

Critics in the Conservative Party asked why the poll did not ask whether Scots believed it was the right decision to release Megrahi.

Mr Salmond told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Dr Fraser was an eminent physician of "unimpeachable personal integrity".

"It was his job to supply the medical prognosis, not because he had absolute certainty - no one could have absolute certainty - but because, given his professional judgment, that was a reasonable expectation, a reasonable estimate, of life expectancy," he said.