Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Letter from First Minister to Senator Kerry

[What follows is the text of a letter sent today by the First Minister, Alex Salmond, to the chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee, Senator John Kerry.]

Dear Senator Kerry

I am writing to you about the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's recent interest in the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. This letter sets out the Scottish Government's position on the key issues that have been raised in recent days. I trust it will assist your Committee's consideration of this matter.

I want first of all to restate the revulsion of the Scottish Government and the people of Scotland at the bombing of Flight Pan Am 103 and to acknowledge the terrible pain and suffering inflicted on the victims and the relatives of all those who died in the Lockerbie atrocity. Whatever different views we have about the release of Al-Megrahi, I am sure we stand together on that.

My understanding is that the recent interest from the Committee and from other Senators stems mainly from concerns over any role played by BP in Al-Megrahi's release. I can say unequivocally that the Scottish Government has never, at any point, received any representations from BP in relation to Al-Megrahi. That is to say we had no submissions or lobbying of any kind from BP, either oral or written, and, to my knowledge, the subject of Al-Megrahi was never raised by any BP representative to any Scottish Government Minister. That includes the Justice Minister to whom it fell to make the decisions on prisoner transfer and compassionate release on a quasi-judicial basis.

Where BP has admitted that it played a role is in encouraging the UK Government to conclude a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) with the Libyan Government. I must make clear that the Scottish Government strongly opposed the PTA and the memorandum that led to it was agreed without our knowledge and against our wishes. Indeed it was the Scottish Government which first drew attention to these negotiations involving former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Libyan counterparts as soon as we learned of them in 2007. By definition, a PTA with Libya concerned Al-Megrahi since he was the only Libyan national in Scottish custody. This point was underlined when the UK Government failed to exclude Al-Megrahi from the face of the agreement.

As was highlighted last year, the Scottish Government rejected the application for transfer of Al-Megrahi under the PTA specifically on the basis that the US Government and families of victims in the United States had been led to believe that such a prisoner transfer would not be possible for anyone convicted of the Lockerbie atrocity. If your Committee is concerned about BP's role or the PTA then it is BP and the previous UK administration that should be the focus of your enquiries. There is nothing the Scottish Government can add to this since we have had no contact with BP at any point in the process of considering Al-Megrahi's position.

The position of the then UK Government in this matter was best expressed by the former Foreign Secretary Mr Milliband in his statement to the House of Commons on 12 October 2009 when he said "The UK Government had a responsibility to consider the consequences of any Scottish decision. Although the decision was not one for the UK Government, British interests, including those of UK nationals, British businesses and possibly security cooperation would be damaged. .. if Megrahi were to die in a Scottish prison."

The decision of the Scottish Government to release Al-Megrahi was made on the basis of an application for compassionate release. This is a separate and long-standing process within the Scottish justice system under which a total of 39 prisoners - including Al-Megrahi have been released since the present provisions were introduced in 1993. During that period, all applications meeting the required criteria and which had support from the Scottish Prison Service, doctors and social work staff, and, in appropriate cases, the Parole Board for Scotland, were granted. I can assure you that consideration of Al-Megrahi's application followed the due process of Scots Law at all stages and that the decision was made in good faith and on the basis of the appropriate criteria.

In order to demonstrate that due process was followed, we published all the key documents related to the decision where permission for publication was given. The only significant documents that we have not published are US Government representations and some correspondence from the UK Government, where permission was declined. The Scottish Government is, and has always been, willing to publish these remaining documents if the US and UK Governments are willing to give permission for that to be done.

There has been some questioning of the medical advice that was used to inform the decision on compassionate release. That advice was compiled by Dr Andrew Fraser, the Director of Health and Care in the Scottish Prison Service, drawing on medical expertise provided by two consultant oncologists, two consultant urologists and the primary care physician. All of these specialists are employed by the National Health Service in Scotland. I do not believe there is any value in questioning the professional integrity of Dr Fraser, who made clinical judgements in good faith and who had no interest in giving anything other than the most professional standard of advice he could offer. There is no evidence that any of the doctors were placed under any outside influence whatsoever and what they provided was an objective view of Al-Megrahi's condition at that time.

Quite separately, the Libyan Government commissioned and paid for advice from other leading cancer specialists. These reports commissioned by the Libyan Government played no part in the decision on compassionate release. Indeed, the report most widely quoted, compiled by Professor Sikora, was not received by the Scottish Government until four days after the medical advice on compassionate release had been presented to the Scottish Justice Minister. I can therefore reassure you and your Committee that the medical evidence which informed the decision to release Al-Megrahi took no account of any assessments paid for by the Libyan Government.

I know that some of your colleagues have questioned how Al-Megrahi can still be alive 11 months after release, when the decision was based on medical advice that 3 months was a reasonable prognosis for his life expectancy. While he has lived for longer than the prognosis suggested, there was a recognition at the time that he could die sooner or live longer. This was made clear in the Scottish Government's public statements, and was an acknowledgement that prognosis in cancer cases is subject to several variables that could affect the estimate of life expectancy. The fact remains, however, that Al-Megrahi is dying of cancer.

I am aware of comments from Secretary of State Clinton to the effect that she would encourage the UK Government and Scottish Government to review how the decisions were reached. I would note that the Scottish Government's actions have already been subject to scrutiny by Committees of both the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament. Their reports and our responses are a matter of public record. There is nothing within them to challenge the Scottish Government's position that the decision was made in good faith and in line with due process. However we will gladly co-operate with the UK Cabinet Secretary in reviewing the publication of any further documents germane to the case.

On the broader questions of inquiry, the Scottish Government do not doubt the safety of the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi. Nevertheless, there remain concerns to some on the wider issues of the Lockerbie atrocity. The questions to be asked and answered in any such inquiry would be beyond the jurisdiction of Scots Law and the remit of the Scottish Government, and such an inquiry would therefore need to be initiated by those with the required power and authority to deal with an issue, international in its nature. As was indicated last year, the Scottish Government would be happy to co-operate fully with such an inquiry. I would add that the case remains open with regard to others who may have had an involvement, with Mr Al-Megrahi, in the Lockerbie atrocity. Scottish and US authorities continue to work together in this area.

I am aware that the US Government and many relatives of those who died, particularly in the US, profoundly disagree with the Scottish Government's decision to release Al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds. I do not expect anything I say will change that but I do think it is important to put on record the background to that decision and reassure you that it was made with integrity and following a clear legal process. I hope that my doing so will assist the Committee.

I am copying this letter to Senators Gillibrand, Lautenberg, Menendez and Schumer and to Secretary of State Clinton. I am also passing a copy to the US Consulate in Edinburgh.

Alex Salmond


  1. I'm astonished that the First Minister is saying the Scottish Government does not doubt the safety of Megrahi's conviction. What, then do they make of the SCCRC findings and the six grounds to believe a miscarriage of justice may have occurred?

  2. I'm not astonished, not any more. It's entirely consistent with Kenny MacAskill's hard-line attitude that Megrahi is guilty, and persistent attempts to air-brush the appeal and the SCCRC findings out of history. I'm very disappointed though.

    The question for me is, why are the SNP leaders behaving like this? The SNP had nothing to do with either the original investigation or the kangaroo court at Camp Zeist. The SNP has no reason at all to cover up for a UK government of any political persuasion, or indeed for anything the Labour/LibDem administration did in 2000. Neither has it any particular axe to grind for the US government.

    I find it impossible to believe that both Salmond and MacAskill are unaware of the flimsy state of the evidence, or of the substance of the SCCRC findings. They were in a unique position, as an authority in a position to right this wrong and set the record straight, of having no prior involvement and no reason to continue a cover-up.

    And yet they clearly have chosen to continue the cover-up, whether of their own accord or because they (probably in common with the Camp Zeist judges) are being leaned on. I would like to know why they are behaving like this, but I acknowledge it's unlikely anyone is going to tell me.

  3. Alex Salmond's behaviour is explicable since he's a Privy Councillor.

    Kenny MacAskill is not a Rt Hon. but perhaps has hopes of becoming one (or of being ennobled - Baron MacAskill of Greenock)?

  4. McAskill is, however, a lawyer and it seems to me that many who are part of the Scottish legal establishment will protect its reputation no matter what. Isn't that frightening?

    I don't have a problem with them referring to the fact that there was a conviction but I'm deeply disturbed that they appear to reject any doubts about the conviction when our own Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission identified six separate grounds to believe a miscarriage of justice could have occurred. Salmond's statement in this letter trashes these findings as did McAskill's statements about the safety of the original conviction on the day he released Megrahi.

    It is very disappointing indeed Rolfe. I was initially very proud of the SNP for rejecting the PTA route and it was said then they were having no truck with the appeal being dropped. Yet, the appeal went anyway even tho it wasn't required.

    I will be writing to Mr Salmond about this. I hope others will too. We really need clarification. He simply doesn't have the authority to ignore the evidence in the public domain from pieces of bomb debris (which couldn't have possibly survived the blast) to tales of vast sums of money being paid to witnesses for their testimony. Plus, the appeal may be gone but the findings of the SCCRC are still a matter of public record. Those findings listed six grounds to suggest a miscarriage of justice could have occurred. He cannot erase that. I am very sorry indeed that he has taken this approach as, until now, the SNP were the ones leading the charge to expose what Blair was up to when setting up the original deal to bring Megrahi in as a trading pawn.