Report to slate MacAskill over early release of Megrahi

JUSTICE secretary Kenny MacAskill will face stinging criticism in a parliamentary report over the way he handled the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Members of Holyrood's justice committee have made it clear that they do not believe the minister followed Scottish Prison Service (SPS) guidelines in allowing Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi to go home to Libya on compassionate grounds because he was dying of prostate cancer.

They will say the minister should have sought a second opinion supporting the prognosis that Megrahi only had three months to live.

They will also criticise him for the flimsiness of the medical evidence. Only the prison doctor was willing to state Megrahi would die in three months while four cancer specialists refused to back that opinion up.

The only man convicted of the murder of 270 people when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the town of Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988, is still alive more than three months after his release.

Despite only taking verbal evidence in one session from the minister and his officials and receiving a limited number of written submissions, a majority of MSPs on the committee decided that they would produce a final report in the new year. The conclusions are supported by all the opposition parties.

The Scotsman understands that they also intend to reprimand the minister for failing to get written assurances that Megrahi would not receive a hero's welcome when he returned to Libya. The minister admitted to them he only received verbal promises and never asked for them in writing.

SNP members of the committee are less than pleased that a report is to be published.

They have pointed to the lack of evidence available and suggested the exercise was "a waste of time."

Some organisations, such as the US government, refused to give evidence and the inquiry was unable to look into the dealings between the UK government and Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi which led to the prisoner transfer agreement, which was ultimately rejected by Mr MacAskill. This is being looked at by a separate inquiry in Westminster.

Former minister Stewart Maxwell, an SNP member of the justice committee, said: "The fact that this inquiry has had to be brought to an end so soon just underlines how Kenny MacAskill took the right decisions for the right reasons, as every scrap of information demonstrated."

The Scottish Government argue that the limited inquiry has only confirmed that Mr MacAskill made the decision correctly.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The justice secretary took the right decision for the right reasons, based on the recommendations of the parole board and the prison governor, and supported by the medical report submitted by Dr Andrew Fraser, director of Health and Care of the Scottish Prison Service, whose clinical assessment was that a three-month life expectancy was a reasonable estimate for this patient."

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