Scotland politics

Call for statement over Lockerbie claims

Kenny MacAskill Image copyright PA
Image caption Kenny MacAskill makes the claims in his forthcoming book, The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice

Scotland's justice secretary has been urged to make a statement over claims made by his predecessor about the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

In a new book, Kenny MacAskill says Scottish ministers sought concessions from the UK government to expedite the transfer of Abdelbast al-Megrahi to Libya.

Mr MacAskill was justice secretary when Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds in 2009.

Megrahi died in Libya in May 2012.

He was the only man convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, in south west Scotland, that left 270 people dead on 21 December 1988.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Mr MacAskill's revelation contradicted previous statements on Scottish ministers' involvement in Tony Blair's prisoner transfer agreement with Libya.

'Political difficulties'

The "deal in the desert" with former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi would have seen Megrahi transferred from Greenock prison to serve the rest of his sentence in his home country.

In the book, Mr MacAskill said he told Westminster officials the deal would cause "political difficulties" for the Scottish government.

He said: "I explained that this would be made easier if they were able to offer some concessions to assist us ... the request for (concessions) was simply an opportunity to try to gain some benefits for Scotland from decisions that were clearly going to be taken anyway."

The book also says the UK government admitted that it wanted to trade Megrahi to Libya in return for oil.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Megrahi died almost three years after being given just six months to live

Megrahi was subsequently released by Mr MacAskill on "compassionate grounds" after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the former MSP was later replaced as justice secretary by Michael Matheson.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has yet to reveal her cabinet for the SNP's next term in government following the Scottish election, but Mr Rennie said her new justice secretary's first job must be a statement to parliament on the claims in Mr MacAskill's book.

'Personal concerns'

Mr Rennie said: "In both 2007 and 2009 the first minister said he had no involvement in the prisoner transfer agreement and had not been consulted.

"Now, Kenny MacAskill is claiming that Scottish ministers were actively involved and were trading away their objections in return for more devolved powers.

"People will be concerned. Many were alarmed at the time that Tony Blair struck a deal in the desert with Colonel Gaddafi. Now it is suggested that Scottish ministers were involved at the highest level in attempts to trade off their personal concerns in return for new Scottish powers.

"The first item of business on the new cabinet secretary for justice's desk must be coming to parliament to set the record straight.

"We need to know whether the discussions that Mr MacAskill refers to in his book took place, who else was involved in these talks and what SNP ministers thought was a fair price for their silence."