Page last updated at 17:32 GMT, Saturday, 15 August 2009 18:32 UK

Bomber 'treated like a celebrity'

Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi
Megrahi has been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer

One of Scotland's leading defence lawyers has accused the Scottish Government of treating the Lockerbie bomber like a celebrity.

Paul McBride QC called on the justice secretary to make an urgent statement to Parliament about whether Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi is about to be released.

Kenny MacAskill is expected to announce this week that the cancer patient will be freed on compassionate grounds.

The Scottish Government said Mr McBride was politicking over a serious issue.

The QC, who advises the Conservative party on law and order, said: "Megrahi is being treated well by the Scottish Government, he is being feted as almost a celebrity.

"The way the Scottish Justice Secretary has conducted his business has been ham-fisted.

"We have what appears to be a shoddy, underhand, unexplained, secretive deal.

"When are we going to hear from the Scottish Government about what its position actually is."

Megrahi is the only person to be convicted over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which claimed 270 lives.

Paul McBride QC
Paul McBride QC said Megrahi would be given a hero's welcome in Libya

Mr McBride described the manner in which the Libyan's possible release was being discussed as "beyond shameful" and said Mr MacAskill should have recalled Parliament to discuss the matter.

The 57-year-old was being given extraordinary, special treatment with decisions about his fate being made in secrecy, he said.

He told BBC Scotland he was angry that Mr MacAskill visited Megrahi in jail and said other prisoners do not get that right.

Mr McBride said he was in danger of turning Scotland into "an international laughing stock", and called for Westminster to become involved in the discussions.

A spokesperson for Mr MacAskill said: "Mr McBride speaks as a Conservative party advocate, he made this same attack 10 days ago, and such politicking has no place in what is a highly serious and important issue.

"Mr McBride should be aware that a Conservative spokesperson at Westminster, Daniel Kawczynski MP, has actually written to the justice secretary saying that Mr Megrahi should be used as a foreign policy "bargaining chip", which is as extraordinary as it is inappropriate in relation to deciding on the applications for compassionate release and prisoner transfer.

"The justice secretary is yet to decide on these applications, and he will do so on a proper judicial basis, and the Conservative party should approach the issue in the same responsible manner."

Lockerbie will be one of those mysteries like the assassination of President Kennedy that will remain unsolved for a long time - possibly forever
Tam Dalyell
Former Labour MP

However, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown MSP also criticised the minister's handling of the issue.

"I took considerable objection to him visiting Megrahi in Greenock Prison," he said.

"I thought that was entirely inappropriate - he's got a semi-judicial role in all of this.

"I fail to see what kind of information he might've been able to get from such a meeting; he's not a doctor, he can't opine on the medical position.

"What on earth was the purpose other than to feed the sort of media frenzy there's been about this matter."

Meanwhile, reacting to the news that the Libyan had applied to abandon his appeal against his conviction, the former Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who has long argued Megrahi's innocence, said: "The last time I saw him was in Greenock Prison.

"He said rather movingly to me that he was desperate to go back to Tripoli to see his family grow up.

"But he wanted to go back as an innocent man.

"If he abandons his appeal, it means that Lockerbie will be one of those mysteries like the assassination of President Kennedy that will remain unsolved for a long time - possibly forever."

Megrahi was convicted of murder in 2001 at a trial held under Scottish law in the Netherlands.

A first appeal against that verdict was rejected the following year.

His second appeal got under way this year but shortly afterwards applications were made for both his transfer to a Libyan jail and release on compassionate grounds.

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