Kenny MacAskill rejects Lockerbie plea

Kenny MacAskill: "I have been held to account by the Scottish parliament"

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Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has again refused to attend a US senate hearing over the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison last year.

Mr MacAskill said the only documents which the Scottish government had not already put in the public domain were correspondence with the US government.

A US senator has "pleaded" with the Scottish government to appear before the hearing next week.

Frank Lautenberg said he wanted Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to help shed light on claims that BP had influenced the release.

Megrahi, who was convicted of killing 270 people by blowing up a Pan Am jumbo jet over the town of Lockerbie, was freed by the Scottish government on medical grounds last August.

Mr MacAskill told the BBC the Scottish government had not yet received Mr Lautenberg's letter, but had received one from New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, a member of the Senate's foreign affairs committee, who had asked for further information.

He said: "The point has already been made quite clear by the First Minister of Scotland - I am the justice secretary of Scotland, I am elected by the people of Scotland and I am answerable to the parliament of Scotland.

"I have been made available and co-operated with enquiries both in the Scottish Parliament and in Westminster, and that is where jurisdiction lies."

Start Quote

The only reason [the correspondence] has not been published is that the American government has refused to give us consent to publish it”

End Quote Kenny MacAskill Scottish Justice Secretary
Consent to publish

Mr MacAskill said he would be happy to provide Mr Menendez with the information he had requested, which the Scottish government had already published on the internet.

He added: "The only matter that remains outstanding is communications between the American government and ourselves.

"The only reason that has not been published is that the American government has refused to give us consent to publish it.

"If Senator Menendez, and indeed Senator Lautenberg, wish to lobby or persuade the United States government to allow the release of that information, we will publish it forthwith."

The Scottish government later said it believed Mr Menendez, who will chair next week's hearing, has now requested that the US government grant permission for its correspondence with Edinburgh to be made public.

Former UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw has also declined an invitation to attend the Washington hearings, while BP chief executive Tony Hayward is considering a similar offer.

The committee wants to investigate whether oil giant BP had lobbied for the release of Megrahi in order to help it secure an oil deal with Libya.

BP has confirmed it is to begin deep-water drilling off the coast of Libya within weeks, despite concerns about the company's environmental and safety record after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who wrote to Senators on Saturday, criticised the decision to release Megrahi, but said it was "legally and constitutionally proper" that the decision was one for the Scottish government.

He has previously acknowledged that BP did lobby the UK's previous Labour government in favour of a prisoner transfer agreement between Britain and Libya, but pointed out that Megrahi was released on entirely separate, compassionate grounds under Scots law because he was deemed to be terminally ill with cancer.

Prime Minister David Cameron has also said there was no evidence that the Scottish government had been "swayed" by BP.

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