Megrahi outlives six other criminals released on compassionate grounds

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THE Lockerbie bomber has already survived longer since his release than any of the other six criminals given compassionate release by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, it was revealed last night.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi has outlived the only other murderer to have been freed by Mr MacAskill on compassionate grounds by more than two months.

For 65 days, Megrahi has been fighting terminal prostate cancer in Libya following Mr MacAskill's controversial decision that enabled the man many regard as the worst mass-murderer in British legal history to go home.

The other murderer released by Mr MacAskill died from liver cancer on the day that he was released.

Christopher McEwan, 44, died on 25 November last year, hours after he left HMP Barlinnie, where he was serving a life sentence for murder, robbery, assault and attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

Megrahi's release led to much speculation that the bomber's freedom was part of a trade deal between the UK and Libya.

Mr MacAskill has always insisted his decision was based purely on medical evidence suggesting Megrahi had about three months to live.

Details of the compassionate release cases were published by the Scottish Government yesterday in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The response revealed Peter Smail, an attempted murderer who was freed from HMP Edinburgh in November last year, died from lung cancer the day after his release.

William O'Rourke, who was in the Castle Huntly open prison serving an eight-month sentence for road traffic and drug offences, lasted 42 days before he also died of lung cancer.

James Docherty died of cancer 49 days after his release in September last year from HMP Greenock, where he was serving a three-month sentence for intending to commit theft.

And sex offender James Cullen, whose medical condition was so serious that both legs and an arm had been amputated, survived for 51 days after Mr MacAskill released him in September 2007 from HMP Edinburgh, where he had been serving a seven-year sentence for indecent practices.

Mr MacAskill has freed all seven criminals, who have applied for release on compassionate grounds. Two, including Megrahi, are still alive.

The government withheld the name of the other living criminal, who was released on 18 September. Megrahi flew back to Libya on 20 August, just over two months ago.

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "I have always insisted that Megrahi's release was wrong because of a lack of proper process and the scale of the outrage committed by Megrahi. One also has to weigh the rights of the victims' families with the consideration of the medical condition of the offender."

The Labour Party said the only murderer serving a life sentence released on compassionate grounds by its justice minister, Cathy Jamieson, died within a fortnight of his release. John McKinlay had a life expectancy of a few days when he was freed from HMP Shotts in June 2004 suffering from throat cancer.

Under the Liberal Democrat justice minister Lord (Jim) Wallace, one murderer lived for almost eight months after his release. Kevin McGhee, 33, died in May 2003 after he was released, because his cancer required 24-hour nursing care.

Before devolution, only six criminals were released under the Conservatives between 1997 and 1993 when the compassionate release legislation was introduced.

Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken said Mr MacAskill was "consistently soft touch".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "All justice secretaries in all administrations since 1993, when the relevant act came into force, have granted all compassionate release applications where the applicant has met the criteria.

"This Scottish Government is committed to strengthening the rights of victims and is making record contributions to Scotland's third sector to enable them to support victims, including over 4 million per year to Victim Support Scotland."