Scottish Ministers last night angrily denied extraordinary claims from a sacked SNP adviser that the Lockerbie bomber had been released for “political” reasons – and not on grounds of ill health.
Mark Hirst claims First Minister Alex Salmond and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill had already decided to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi before the application for a prisoner transfer from Libya was even received.
Mr Hirst, who was sacked as Christine Grahame’s senior political adviser in September, is embroiled in an increasingly bitter row with his former employer. (...)
Writing online yesterday [RB: in a comment on this blog], Mr Hirst said: “MacAskill made the decision... BEFORE his defence team or Libyan officials had made any application to have him returned.
“He didn’t do this because he felt any real sense of compassion, or for any commercial reasons as the Americans have stated, but because MacAskill believed it was politically expedient. Fair to say neither he or anyone expected the media furore that followed.
“For Scottish Ministers the bottom line was this; they were determined to uphold, as they saw it, the integrity of the Scottish legal system... whether or not it deserved it.
“Ensuring Megrahi was out the way and sent back to Libya, his appeal dropped, was critical to achieving that objective.”
Mr Hirst also claimed that Ms Grahame – who was a vocal supporter of Megrahi and believed he had suffered a miscarriage of justice – had now “backed off” from the campaign.
So far, she has not used her position as Convener of the Justice Committee to push for a Scottish Government inquiry into the 1988 bombing.
Mr Hirst wrote: “Grahame said she could not, for political reasons, push Scottish Ministers fully on this.
‘There is only so far I can go,’ she told me and added that we should continue to try to divert and focus calls for an inquiry on the UK Government instead, knowing fine well they will never hold one.”
Megrahi, 59, is the only man ever convicted of the bombing in 1988. After being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, he was freed on compassionate grounds just days after dropping an appeal against his conviction – which many believe to have been flawed.
Colonel Gaddafi’s regime had also applied for a prisoner transfer, under a deal agreed with Tony Blair’s government as part of talks that also saw BP win lucrative oil deals.
Mr MacAskill’s spokesman said last night: “This is complete and absolute nonsense, from an individual in no position to know anything about these matters. There were two applications for release – one on compassionate grounds, and another for prisoner transfer. The Justice Secretary rejected the prisoner transfer application.
“In every regard, the Scottish Government acted without any consideration of the economic, political and diplomatic factors that the then UK Labour Government based its hypocritical position in favour of release on.”