Thursday, 30 September 2010

Scottish Government statement following Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing

[Various organs of the media have reported the Scottish Government's reaction to Wednesday's US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. The full statement issued by the Scottish Government to the media is as follows:]

Commenting on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today - in which in a prepared testimony, Nancy McEldowney, a principal deputy assistant secretary, said that a review of US government records found no evidence that oil company BP sought to secure the early release of Al-Megrahi, and that the State Department has "not identified any materials, beyond publicly available statements and correspondence, concerning attempts by BP or other companies to influence matters" related to al-Megrahi's release, a Scottish Government spokesperson said:

"With the US State Department saying that there is no evidence whatever that BP played a role in the release of Al-Megrahi, the entire basis of the Senate Committee hearing has fallen away - we have been telling them that in letter after letter, and in a meeting, for many months. The Scottish Government has published everything we can - except where permission was withheld by the US and UK administrations - and all of the evidence demonstrates that the Justice Secretary's decisions to reject the Prisoner Transfer application and grant compassionate release were taken on judicial grounds alone - and not political, economic, diplomatic or any other factors.

"Scottish Ministers and officials are accountable to the Scottish Parliament, and the Parliament's Justice Committee held a full inquiry into this issue - which it decided not to re-open.

"Nonetheless, Scottish Ministers have given substantial help to the Senate Committee, and the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Kerry, described the Scottish Government's contribution as 'thoughtful and thorough'. In all, the First Minister has written three times to Senator Kerry, and five times to Senators Menendez, Lautenberg, Gillibrand, and Schumer. Scottish Government officials also held a courtesy meeting with a member of Senator Menendez's staff, while the UK Government rejected such a request."

Regarding the false claims that a Scottish Government official said that the three-month prognosis was signed off by a primary care physician in the courtesy meeting with a Senate staffer earlier this month, and that Al-Megrahi received chemotherapy treatment in Scotland, the Scottish Government totally rejected these claims - and indeed wrote to the Senate Committee yesterday evening when we became aware of this misinformation.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:

"The Senator's staffer has got both these issues entirely wrong, and the Senate Committee is misinformed - we wrote to the Committee yesterday informing them of these errors when we became aware of them, and expressing our extreme disappointment.

"As has been stated many times, and was said several times at the meeting between Scottish Government officials and the staffer earlier this month, the advice to the Justice Secretary came from Dr Andrew Fraser, Director of Health and Care of the Scottish Prison Service, and the prognosis was his. It was Dr Fraser's responsibility to prepare the medical report for Mr MacAskill, and Dr Fraser who concluded that his clinical assessment was that a three month prognosis was a reasonable estimate, drawing on the work of a range of specialists and other Scottish Health Service professionals involved in Megrahi's care from when he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008.

"Dr Fraser is a professional of impeccable integrity.

"Second, it is a matter of public record that Megrahi was not on chemotherapy treatment in Scotland at any point, and it is also a matter of record that his hormone treatment had failed as the firm consensus of specialists was that his condition had become 'hormone resistant'.

"Given the importance of this case, it was appropriate that the most senior health professional in the Scottish Prison Service, Dr Fraser, was responsible for providing the medical report which formed part of the consideration of the application for compassionate release. With the exception of this point, i.e. the most senior SPS health professional providing the report, this is exactly the same process which has been followed in the over 60 cases considered under the relevant legislation passed in 1993.

"Officials met Senator Menendez's staffer as a courtesy, and we demand a full explanation from the Committee for what has happened in a response to our letter as a matter of urgency."

[The Senate staffer's account of events can be read in this report on the BBC News website. The following are extracts:]

The Scottish government was warned US-UK relations would continue to be harmed if permission was refused to talk to the doctors who treated the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al Megrahi.

In correspondence seen by the BBC, Scottish officials said they were unable to set up the meetings and also rejected a plea for a senate investigator to interview civil servants on a one-to-one basis. (...)

The exchange of e-mails followed a meeting in Edinburgh on 17 September between the lead investigator working on behalf of Senator Menendez and George Burgess, former deputy director of criminal law and licensing.

Mr Burgess was closely involved in the release of Megrahi.

Also there were Kevin Pringle, Alex Salmond's senior special advisor, and two other Scottish civil servants along with a representative from the US embassy in London.

An aide to the senator who is familiar with what happened said: "Burgess confirmed that al-Megrahi received chemotherapy in July 2009. That is a first.

"To date, we only knew that he had received a 'new treatment' in July of 2009.

"The significance of this is very important.

"First, al-Megrahi claimed in documents in both July and August 2009 that he had not received chemotherapy, only exploring the possibility.

"This is now confirmed to be a lie." (...)

Senator Menendez's office insists they were told by Mr Burgess the prognosis that Megrahi had a reasonable life expectancy of three months or less wasn't given by a specialist but a GP - prison doctor Peter Kay.

This is important because a three-month life expectancy is one of the conditions for compassionate release.

"Burgess confirmed that Dr Peter Kay made the prognosis that Al-Megrahi would likely die within three months. This is a first."

It's claimed at this point the first minister's senior adviser, Kevin Pringle, intervened.

"Pringle was very uncomfortable after Burgess made this statement and instead insisted that Dr Fraser (director of health and care at the Scottish Prison Service) had made the prognosis.

"Moreover, Dr Fraser had allegedly done so only after considering all of the specialists and GP feedback. Burgess then became nervous and tried to retract what he had said."

The Scottish government described both these claims as complete nonsense and has written to the senate committee to express its extreme disappointment.

A spokesman also pointed out that the investigator made no notes during the meeting.

A statement said: "The senator's staffer has got both these issues entirely wrong, and the senate committee is misinformed." (...)

But the senator's office have a different assessment.

"Pringle was the Scottish government's 'minder,' sent unannounced to make sure Burgess didn't say too much; Burgess was clearly nervous. And clearly knows more.

"Had I been alone with him or without Pringle, he would have talked: They contradicted themselves repeatedly and made illogical statements/conclusions that were almost laughable if the circumstances weren't so serious."

Following the meeting on 17 September, there was an exchange of e-mails between the American investigator and Scottish government officials.

The investigator wanted to hold private meetings with the six doctors who had treated Megrahi.

He writes to Mr Pringle: "My preference would be to meet with the aforementioned individually."

He then offered to rearrange his return to Washington DC to allow the meetings to take place.

"If I can get authoritative answers to the outstanding medical concerns, I can wrap up my work and we can at last remove both lingering doubts and, ultimately, an irritant in US - UK relations."

A response arrived on 21 September from senior Scottish justice official Nikki Brown: "The provision of medical care to Mr Megrahi which was reflected in Dr Fraser's report to the cabinet secretary was not a process within the remit of the Scottish government, and I am not therefore in a position to commit the medical practitioners involved."

Ms Brown also rules out any further meetings with Scottish government officials.

"We do not believe that a further discussion would serve any purpose."

In his reply, the investigator issues a warning.

"The absence of information and finality surrounding the medical prognosis has led to confusion and speculation. I fear that your decision means that such will remain the case and, indeed, grow louder and more pronounced. Sens Menendez et al cannot wrap up their inquiry until I come to a better understanding on the medical portion of Mr al-Megrahi's release. Consequently, relations will continue to sour."


  1. It can't really be a surprise to the ScotGov that a significant item was reported back by 'staffer' wrongly. The Senators have been like a dog with a bone over the release of Megrahi (but only since the oil well popped, of course), and they've been wearing their heart on their sleeve too - so no suprise they would accept avidly anything staffer said he heard on his recent visit. I wonder if they asked him had he written any meeting notes down in a meeting notes notebook, for example. (apparently he didn't - but no doubt, that will be disputed too!)
    Probably was audio-linked to a Predator drone hovering above Edinburgh, more like...the same one that now follows Kenny MacAskill around.
    Oh well, that'll teach ScotGov to even talk to these people again - since they're far too high maintenance.

  2. Good Grief I didn't know that Kevin Pringle was some kind of Alistair Campbell figure.

    They have made this sound like a scene from the Thick of It.

    Anyway the person I am really angry with is Dr Richard Baker the Scottish Labour MSP who is all over this issue like a rash.

    He is demanding that Mr Megrahi's medical records be released without his permission & is aiding & abetting a foreign government to attack the Scottish government.

    You really could not make this up.

  3. I suppose I should say a foreign countries Senators & Committee, rather than government.

  4. Jings, you couldn't make it up. Would these jokers speak like that to the independent government of a major ally? Or do they just know that Westminster will never offer an SNP Scottish government any support?

    Let's hear it for the Union Dividend.

    I've just thought of a fun conspiracy theory. We know the USA opposes Scottish independence - they'd lose that WMD base in the Clyde for a start. They calculate that fostering the impression that something the SNP has done has pissed off the other half of the Special Relationship would be bad for the SNP's poll ratings.

    So they're going to keep this going till the elections next year, in the hope of influencing the result.

    Well, it's as sensible as anything else that's been written about this nonsense.

  5. I really think the Scottish Government started off well here and then lost the plot. If government ministers weren't thought accountable to the US then neither are our civil servants, Scottish Government employees.

    The US has NO jurisdiction here and these employees should not have had to co operate, end of story. We now have the ridiculous situation whereby the First Minister on the one hand told the US to get knotted at one point yet people working for the SG were interviewed by these lunatics!

    I agree with previous posts both of which have used a very handy phrase to describe this complete debacle for indeed you really couldn't make it up!

  6. Observer............we previously referred to Richard Baker as Dr here but we then discovered he isn't a Doctor. So we stick with Richard now, or, if we must, Dick.