KENNY MacAskill has rejected allegations that he urged the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing to drop his appeal to smooth the way for his compassionate release.
After pressure from the opposition parties, the justice secretary made a statement to the Scottish Parliament yesterday to answer claims made by Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi in a recent book.
In Megrahi: You Are My Jury, the bomber claimed Mr MacAskill held a “private” discussion with Libyan foreign minister Abdulati al-Obedi in which “he gave him to understand that it would be easier to grant compassionate release if I dropped my appeal”.
Megrahi made the claim in his contribution to the book, written by John Ashton, which argues that the bomber is innocent of Britain’s worst mass murder. But in a defiant statement to MSPs yesterday, Mr MacAskill confronted the allegation that it was made known to Megrahi through Mr Obedi that the justice secretary took the view that dropping the appeal would ease Megrahi’s passage to freedom.
Mr MacAskill said: “These claims are wrong”, and added that he would be “entirely comfortable” with the appeal being reopened.
Appearing before MSPs, he also confirmed that there was a mechanism for the appeal to be reopened even after Megrahi’s death.
Mr MacAskill said: “Scottish Government officials were present throughout my meeting with Mr al-Obedi. At no time did I, or any other member of the Scottish Government, suggest to Mr al-Obedi, to anyone connected with the Libyan government, or indeed to Mr al-Megrahi himself, that abandoning his appeal against conviction would in any way aid or affect his application for compassionate release.”
He added: “The Scottish Government had no interest whatsoever in Mr al-Megrahi’s appeal being abandoned.
“I had no involvement in Mr al-Megrahi’s decision to drop his appeal against conviction – that was entirely a matter for him and his legal team.”
He said members would want to know whether there was a mechanism for an appeal still to be heard, even posthumously. He said: “I can confirm to the Chamber that there is. It would involve an application being made for a further reference by the SCCRC (Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission), the commission deciding to make a reference and for the High Court to accept such a reference.
“These, of course, are not matters for me as justice secretary to decide upon. I neither sought the abandonment nor continuation of Mr al-Megrahi’s appeal; it is not for me to either seek or oppose a potential appeal, posthumous or otherwise. That is correctly a matter for others, and I would have every confidence in the Scottish criminal justice system were there to be another appeal.”
Many of the American relatives of the Lockerbie victims remain convinced that Megrahi is guilty, despite the claims made in the book.
But there are relatives, including Jim Swire, who lost daughter Flora in the atrocity, who believe Megrahi is innocent. They have indicated that they will pursue an appeal.
Last night, Mr Ashton said that the Scottish Government had missed the most important point of his book, which was that Megrahi was convicted on “highly unreliable” evidence.