Scottish ministers sought Lockerbie release ‘concessions’

The remains of the flight deck of Pan Am 103 on a field in Lockerbie. Picture: AP
The remains of the flight deck of Pan Am 103 on a field in Lockerbie. Picture: AP
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The Scottish Government tried to seek “concessions” from UK ministers over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has said.

Mr MacAskill released Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi in 2009 on compassionate grounds after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

But he was originally earmarked for release through a controversial Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) with Libya and Mr MacAskill has revealed the SNP regime in Scotland sought controls over firearms licensing and curbs on prisoner “slopping out” lawsuits in exchange for their co-operation with this scheme.

The Scottish Government has previously denied any attempt to do a deal over the release of Megrahi and former first minister Alex Salmond insisted his regime conducted talks with a “straight bat.”

Mr MacAskill has said ministers in Scotland used the PTA process to try to gain some “benefits for Scotland” in a new book.

“I explained that given the vehemence with which (Salmond) had opposed the PTA when news of it had first broken there would be political difficulties in concurring,” Mr MacAskill writes.

“I explained that this would be made easier if they were able to offer some concessions to assist us.”

He adds: “Some have questioned with hindsight whether it was wise for the Scottish Government to have been so vociferous in opposing the PTA. The request for concessions was simply an opportunity to try to gain some benefits for Scotland from decisions that were clearly going to be taken anyway.”

The PTA was branded the “deal in the desert” after it was agreed by former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gadaffi in 2007. It opened up Libyan oil trade for UK firms, in exchange for allowing Libya to apply for its citizens in UK jails to be transferred home to finish their sentence. At the time Megrahi was the only Libyan in jail in the UK.

The slopping out issue was resolved after emergency legislation was passed at Holyrood, while some firearms powers were devolved to Holyrood after the SNP’s election victory in 2011.

A 2011 review of UK government papers by Sir Gus O’Donnell, the then cabinet secretary found Scottish ministers behaved in a “perfectly correct manner”.