[A report in today’s edition of the Sunday Herald contains the following:]
The Scottish Government was told three months ago that the publication of the highly controversial Lockerbie report was not necessarily held back by data protection legislation.
The revelation brings into question the repeated assurances from ministers that they were doing everything possible to get the report published.
After five years of secrecy the Sunday Herald published the report online last weekend as it believed it was in the public interest, and it had permission from Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.
Last month, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill wrote to his Westminster counterpart asking for an exemption under the Data Protection Act. This followed a similar request in December. MacAskill did not have the report, but was trying to smooth the way for the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) to publish it.
It has now emerged that the Ministry of Justice wrote to MacAskill on December 13 to say there was "no provision for a general exception" under the Act but equally that there was no blanket ban on publication of the report under data protection.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the regulator of the Data Protection Act in the UK, wrote to The Herald to deny claims that the report was held back by data-protection laws. It also said the ICO had told ministers that publication was not prohibited by the Data Protection Act.
A spokesman for the ICO said: "The ICO has always been clear that it was the restrictive nature of the legislation governing the operation of SCCRC and not the Data Protection Act that resulted in the release of this information, relating to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, being blocked.
"We have consistently advised the Scottish Parliament and Government that the Act would not stand in the way of openness, providing the other legal requirements for disclosure could be satisfied."
Ministers have said since 2009 that they were doing everything in their power to get the full report into the public domain, but said it was still bound by data protection legislation.
[I, of course, have said from the outset that the Scottish Government’s data protection excuse was a complete red herring.]