Page last updated at 23:20 GMT, Tuesday, 30 March 2010 00:20 UK

Lockerbie response 'disjointed'

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi wearing medical mask at a hospital in Tripoli
Megrahi was released from prison in August on compassionate grounds

The UK government's reaction to the release of the Lockerbie bomber last year has come in for stinging criticism from a committee of MPs.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was released by the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill on compassionate grounds.

The Westminster Scottish Affairs committee said there was "close co-operation" between the two governments in the run-up to the release.

But, it said, the UK administration's initial response appeared "disjointed".

Initial reaction

Megrahi is the only man convicted of the Lockerbie atrocity, which saw 270 people die in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on 21 December, 1988.

In August last year, medical advice indicated Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, only had three months left to live.

The Scottish government's decision, and the scenes which greeted Megrahi on his return to Tripoli - where Scottish flags were waved - were met with anger by some relatives of the American victims.

However, Westminster's Scottish Affairs committee has now criticised the UK government's planning and initial reaction to the release.

It is important to be clear that no deal was signed to return Megrahi - that was always, rightly, the prerogative of Scottish ministers
Scotland Office spokesman

It said that once Edinburgh took the decision, there was close co-operation with officials and ministers in London.

But the committee said the UK government's initial media reaction appeared disjointed, with a first response from Prime Minister Gordon Brown coming more than 10 days later.

The committee, which has been examining relations between the two governments, describes this as "unfortunate".

It said it was an issue for the UK government to "ponder".

The committee also criticised the UK government for earlier failing to advise Scottish ministers of plans to include the Lockerbie bomber in a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya.

Scots law

North-south working practices were illustrated in a case study on former prime minister Tony Blair's "deal in the desert" with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2007.

Megrahi eventually had a prisoner transfer application rejected by the Scottish government, before he was released on compassionate grounds.

The SNP government at Holyrood has previously attacked a lack of information from UK ministers on the prisoner transfer agreement.

First Minister Alex Salmond told the committee in January that Mr Blair's deal was a "mistake" that cut across Scots law.

In its report, the committee said a concordat on international relations clearly showed that the UK government should provide Scottish ministers with information.

A Scotland Office spokesman said: "It is important to be clear that no deal was signed to return Megrahi - that was always, rightly, the prerogative of Scottish ministers.

"The UK government sought to include the requests of the Scottish government within the drafting of the PTA.

"When this proved impossible, the PTA very clearly stated that any decision for the release or transfer of Megrahi would fall to the Scottish government."

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