Tuesday, 24 May 2016

‘UK wanted to shut down paper over Lockerbie story’

[This is the headline over a report by Mike Wade in today’s edition of The Times. It reads in part:]

Kenny MacAskill has alleged that the UK government was ready to close down a Scottish newspaper because of an article it published about the Lockerbie bombing.

The former Scottish justice secretary has written a book about the legal case surrounding the atrocity and is said to have based part of his account on material from a classified document held by the UK government.

In his book, Mr MacAskill claims that the document implicates the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command (PFLP-GC) and yesterday he said that he had been told “by several sources” that the document was relevant to the Lockerbie case.

He implied that the same secret material had been the basis of a newspaper article five years ago. [RB: The newspaper in question is The Herald. The article can be read here.]

Mr MacAskill said: “I took calls in 2011 from the UK government seeking to close down a Scottish daily newspaper for running that article.

“They were going to delete an entire edition. I remember saying to the minister that he was off his head if the Scottish people weren’t suddenly going to notice that a major Scottish daily newspaper hadn’t been published that day, and ask questions why.”

Mr MacAskill also admitted that he “does not know” whether he breached the Official Secrets Act in his book.

“What I’ve reported is information that came to my attention,” he told STV. “I don’t know whether that’s the document because I was the Scottish justice secretary. I never saw it. What I believe I refer to was never put before me.”

He added: “This is something that I believe should be out there. This wasn’t put before the Scottish court. Why wasn’t it put before the Scottish court?

“It wasn’t put before the Scottish justice secretary or the Scottish government. It may or it may not be relevant but I think people are entitled to know.”

At the weekend, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office suggested that Mr MacAskill “might” be in breach of the Official Secrets Act in his book, The Lockerbie Bombing, the Search for Justice. Such a transgression could lead to a prison term of up to ten years. (...)

Those campaigning to have Megrahi’s conviction overturned say that the PFLP-GC had a key role in the bombing, which killed all 270 people aboard Pam Am Flight 103 in 1988.

In a book co-written with Megrahi, John Ashton said that the Iranian government hired the organisation to do its “dirty work” in revenge for Iran Air Flight 655, which was shot out of the sky by a US missile in 1988 with the loss of 274 lives.

Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has called for an investigation into the behaviour of the former SNP justice secretary.

“Kenny MacAskill should be investigated by the authorities. His cavalier approach to justice has left many casualties in its wake,” Mr Rennie said. “He should not be profiting from any breach of the Official Secrets Act.”

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