Page last updated at 17:33 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 18:33 UK

'Regrettable actions' over bomber

Kenny MacAskill
Mr MacAskill announced the release of Megrahi in Edinburgh

The Scottish justice secretary has hit out at the UK government for its "highly regrettable" actions over the Lockerbie bomber.

Kenny MacAskill underlined his opposition to a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) thrashed out by Westminster and Libya.

He said no information had been sent to back up US pressure for the Libyan to serve his sentence in Scotland.

The criticism came as Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was freed from jail.

The convicted bomber, who is suffering from cancer, has been allowed to return home to Libya on compassionate grounds.

The justice secretary said Scottish Government opposition was clear throughout the PTA deal.

Mr MacAskill said: "It was pointed out that the Scottish Prison Service had only one Libyan prisoner in custody, not withstanding that the UK government failed to secure, as requested by the Scottish Government, an exclusion from the PTA for anyone involved in the Lockerbie air disaster."

I sought the views of the United Kingdom Government. I offered them the right to make representations or provide information - they declined to do so
Kenny MacAskill
Scottish Justice Minister

The minister said the terms of the PTA had led to a face-to-face meeting with Megrahi, at Greenock prison where the Libyan was serving a life sentence.

He continued: "Mr al-Megrahi had the opportunity to make representations and he chose to do so in person.

"Therefore, I was duty bound to receive his representations. I accordingly met him. It was clear that both the United States government and the American families objected to a prisoner transfer.

"They did so on the basis of agreements they said had been made, prior to trial, regarding the place of imprisonment of anyone convicted."

In a press conference at the Scottish Government headquarters in Edinburgh, Mr MacAskill said it had been made clear by the US government that Megrahi should spend his life sentence in Scotland.

Mr MacAskill said: "That clear understanding was reiterated to me by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"I sought the views of the United Kingdom government. I offered them the right to make representations or provide information - they declined to do so.

"They simply informed me they saw no legal barrier to transfer and that they gave no assurances to the US government at the time.

"They have declined to offer a full explanation as to what was discussed during this time or to provide any information to substantiate their view. I find that highly regrettable."

Mr MacAskill said he did not know the nature of discussions or what had been agreed between governments.

But he added: "However, I am certain of the clear understanding of the American families and the American government."

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