Two years on: Alex Salmond still defiant over al-Megrahi

ALEX Salmond prompted scorn and derision from families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing as he used the second anniversary of the release of Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi to reiterate his claims that the Scottish Government made the right decision in releasing the convicted terrorist.

• Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi boards an aircaft at Glasgow airport to take him back to his home in Libya in 2009. Picture: TSPL

In a statement released two years to the day after the bomber walked free up the steps of his private aircraft to return to Libya, a spokesman for the First Minister said two years of scrutiny had "vindicated" the position taken by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill when he set Megrahi free on compassionate grounds, based on the rules and regulations of Scots Law.

Meanwhile, a senior Libyan politician yesterday called for Megrahi – who is still alive after he was given three months to live by doctors before his release – to undergo a trial in his home country.

"I personally think he should be tried again in Libya," said Mohammed Al Kish, head of the media committee of the National Transitional Council, which is recognised by the UK as the country's government. "If he really did it, it would only be fair to have him imprisoned."

For the two years since Megrahi's release, the decision has been lambasted by opposition politicians, relatives of the victims and the US government.

Susan Cohen, whose daughter, Theo, 20, was one of the 270 people killed when Pan Am flight 103 travelling from London to New York exploded over Lockerbie in 1988, said Mr Salmond's comments made him "sound like a fool" and slammed the Scottish legal system for allowing the release.

But Mr Salmond's spokesman said the Scottish Government stands by Megrahi's release.

"The Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee examined the matter in full, and concluded that the Justice Secretary's decision was taken 'in good faith'," he said.

"Two years of extensive scrutiny, under three jurisdictions, vindicates the position that the Justice Secretary released Megrahi on compassionate grounds and compassionate grounds alone, based on the rules and regulations of Scots Law and the reports of the Parole Board for Scotland, the Prison Governor, and the Scottish Prison Service Director of Health and Care Dr Andrew Fraser – all of which have been published."

He added: "Whether people support or oppose the decision, it was made following the due process of Scots Law, we stand by it, and Megrahi is dying of terminal prostate cancer."

Megrahi, 59, was released from prison in Scotland in August 2009 after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

He has since survived eight times longer than doctors predicted and has spent his days since his release in Libya, surrounded by friends and family and undergoing medical treatment. Last month, he appeared at a pro-Gaddafi event, sparking anger around the world.

It was claimed this week that Megrahi has been kept alive with the expensive "wonder drug" Abiraterone – which is not approved for use in the UK.

Dr Fraser's report, the only publicly available document on Megrahi's health, describes the three-month prognosis as "reasonable".

It also states that no-one "would be willing to say" whether Megrahi would live longer.

"Alex Salmond should be ashamed of himself for sounding like such a fool," said Ms Cohen, speaking to The Scotsman from her home in New Jersey. "What is he talking about? There has been no vindication for this.

"The Scottish legal system is an absolute joke. In the US, we would not be able to have one man come out with the foolish line of compassionate release and then let him go.

"I want there to be more trials over this – I hope there will be – but I wouldn't trust them to be held in Scotland after what has happened."

She added: "This is going to go down in history as a terrible black mark against Scotland. You are given your new found freedom and these are the kinds of decisions that are made."

Pam Dix, whose brother Peter died in the tragedy, reiterated calls for a public inquiry into the attack because, two years after the release of the bomber, authorities are no further forward in obtaining further convictions.

"Two years after Megrahi's release, we appear to be no further forward in knowing, for example, who else might have been involved," said Ms Dix, who lives in Surrey.

"We, as the relatives of victims, are in limbo. The man is still alive. And if MacAskill – and Salmond – thinks he is vindicated because the Scottish Government followed due process, then, yes they followed due process – but something went badly wrong in that process because he is still alive. They seem to have taken the moral high ground in Scotland and I don't like that – it is a little smug."

A spokesman for East Renfrewshire Council said it was still receiving monthly medical updates and insisted contact was made "very recently". The council is kept informed of Megrahi's health because his family had been living within its area.

The spokesman added: "All of our contact is up to date. There has been no breach in the release licence conditions."

Politicians renewed calls for Mr Salmond to apologise to the relatives of the victims of the terrorist attack for the decision to release Britain's worst mass murderer from prison.

"It is time for an apology from Alex Salmond and the SNP," said John Lamont, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman.

"When Alex Salmond's government took the decision to release Megrahi it was not done in the name of Scotland, or in the name of the Scottish Parliament. It was a decision made by Mr Salmond's SNP government and Mr Salmond's minister.

"Many in Scotland must today feel that the Scottish people have been let down by two governments, Alex Salmond's at Holyrood and Gordon Brown's at Westminster. The last UK Labour government bent over backwards to get Megrahi set free."

The party has called for the Scottish Government to release the full medical records surrounding Megrahi's case.

"The suspicion lingers that this was not a decision based on facts, but that facts were found to fit a decision already taken and leaked to the Libyans. This was nudge and wink diplomacy by Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond," said Mr Lamont.

Labour leader Iain Gray said: "It is a sign of Alex Salmond's arrogance that he refuses to apologise to the relatives of the Lockerbie victims.

"Two years on it is clear he got it terribly wrong. He claims the decision was made on compassionate grounds, but it is time he showed some compassion for the families of the victims. However his stubbornness and vanity stops him.

"It is a further insult to the victims that he refuses still to publish all the medical evidence the release was based on. If the decision was made for humanitarian reasons, he should do the humane thing and apologise for the pain caused to the relatives.

"The sight of Megrahi last month acting as a cheerleader for a dictator indicted for war crimes turned the stomach. That made even some of those who initially supported Alex Salmond realise he got it wrong. Now he must recognise that fact."

A recent poll revealed two out of three Scots want Megrahi returned to jail, while most believe he should not have been freed.

In a statement released two years to the day after the bomber walked free up the steps of his private aircraft to return to Libya, a spokesman for the First Minister said two years of scrutiny had "vindicated" the position taken by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill when he set Megrahi free on compassionate grounds, based on the rules and regulations of Scots Law.

Meanwhile, a senior Libyan politician yesterday called for Megrahi – who is still alive after he was given three months to live by doctors before his release – to undergo a trial in his home country.

"I personally think he should be tried again in Libya," said Mohammed Al Kish, head of the media committee of the National Transitional Council, which is recognised by the UK as the country's government. "If he really did it, it would only be fair to have him imprisoned."

For the two years since Megrahi's release, the decision has been lambasted by opposition politicians, relatives of the victims and the US government.

Susan Cohen, whose daughter, Theo, 20, was one of the 270 people killed when Pan Am flight 103 travelling from London to New York exploded over Lockerbie in 1988, said Mr Salmond's comments made him "sound like a fool" and slammed the Scottish legal system for allowing the release.

But Mr Salmond's spokesman said the Scottish Government stands by Megrahi's release.

"The Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee examined the matter in full, and concluded that the Justice Secretary's decision was taken 'in good faith'," he said.

"Two years of extensive scrutiny, under three jurisdictions, vindicates the position that the Justice Secretary released Megrahi on compassionate grounds and compassionate grounds alone, based on the rules and regulations of Scots Law and the reports of the Parole Board for Scotland, the Prison Governor, and the Scottish Prison Service Director of Health and Care Dr Andrew Fraser – all of which have been published."

He added: "Whether people support or oppose the decision, it was made following the due process of Scots Law, we stand by it, and Megrahi is dying of terminal prostate cancer."

Megrahi, 59, was released from prison in Scotland in August 2009 after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

He has since survived eight times longer than doctors predicted and has spent his days since his release in Libya, surrounded by friends and family and undergoing medical treatment. Last month, he appeared at a pro-Gaddafi event, sparking anger around the world.

It was claimed this week that Megrahi has been kept alive with the expensive "wonder drug" Abiraterone – which is not approved for use in the UK.

Dr Fraser's report, the only publicly available document on Megrahi's health, describes the three-month prognosis as "reasonable".

It also states that no-one "would be willing to say" whether Megrahi would live longer.

"Alex Salmond should be ashamed of himself for sounding like such a fool," said Ms Cohen, speaking to The Scotsman from her home in New Jersey. "What is he talking about? There has been no vindication for this.

"The Scottish legal system is an absolute joke. In the US, we would not be able to have one man come out with the foolish line of compassionate release and then let him go.

"I want there to be more trials over this – I hope there will be – but I wouldn't trust them to be held in Scotland after what has happened."

She added: "This is going to go down in history as a terrible black mark against Scotland. You are given your new found freedom and these are the kinds of decisions that are made."

Pam Dix, whose brother Peter died in the tragedy, reiterated calls for a public inquiry into the attack because, two years after the release of the bomber, authorities are no further forward in obtaining further convictions.

"Two years after Megrahi's release, we appear to be no further forward in knowing, for example, who else might have been involved," said Ms Dix, who lives in Surrey.

"We, as the relatives of victims, are in limbo. The man is still alive. And if MacAskill – and Salmond – thinks he is vindicated because the Scottish Government followed due process, then, yes they followed due process – but something went badly wrong in that process because he is still alive. They seem to have taken the moral high ground in Scotland and I don't like that – it is a little smug."

A spokesman for East Renfrewshire Council said it was still receiving monthly medical updates and insisted contact was made "very recently". The council is kept informed of Megrahi's health because his family had been living within its area.

The spokesman added: "All of our contact is up to date. There has been no breach in the release licence conditions."

Politicians renewed calls for Mr Salmond to apologise to the relatives of the victims of the terrorist attack for the decision to release Britain's worst mass murderer from prison.

"It is time for an apology from Alex Salmond and the SNP," said John Lamont, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman.

"When Alex Salmond's government took the decision to release Megrahi it was not done in the name of Scotland, or in the name of the Scottish Parliament. It was a decision made by Mr Salmond's SNP government and Mr Salmond's minister.

"Many in Scotland must today feel that the Scottish people have been let down by two governments, Alex Salmond's at Holyrood and Gordon Brown's at Westminster. The last UK Labour government bent over backwards to get Megrahi set free."

The party has called for the Scottish Government to release the full medical records surrounding Megrahi's case.

"The suspicion lingers that this was not a decision based on facts, but that facts were found to fit a decision already taken and leaked to the Libyans. This was nudge and wink diplomacy by Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond," said Mr Lamont.

Labour leader Iain Gray said: "It is a sign of Alex Salmond's arrogance that he refuses to apologise to the relatives of the Lockerbie victims.

"Two years on it is clear he got it terribly wrong. He claims the decision was made on compassionate grounds, but it is time he showed some compassion for the families of the victims. However his stubbornness and vanity stops him.

"It is a further insult to the victims that he refuses still to publish all the medical evidence the release was based on. If the decision was made for humanitarian reasons, he should do the humane thing and apologise for the pain caused to the relatives.

"The sight of Megrahi last month acting as a cheerleader for a dictator indicted for war crimes turned the stomach. That made even some of those who initially supported Alex Salmond realise he got it wrong. Now he must recognise that fact."

A recent poll revealed two out of three Scots want Megrahi returned to jail, while most believe he should not have been freed.

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