Page last updated at 20:23 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 21:23 UK

SNP defeated over bomber release

Megrahi flew back to Libya after being freed from prison

The Scottish Government has suffered a defeat in parliament over its handling of the Lockerbie case.

Opposition parties united in a vote to condemn the decision to free terminally-ill Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

The move fell short of a vote of no-confidence in the SNP government.

As the vote took place, a hospital official told the BBC Megrahi had undergone chemotherapy and was now in a cancer ward in Tripoli.

In a further development, a lawyer who represents the families of Lockerbie victims in the US is planning legal action to force the US government to publish details of its correspondence with London and Edinburgh in the run-up to Megrahi's release.

During a debate at the Scottish Parliament, a government motion which said Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to release the bomber was taken in accordance with the justice system was amended by a combined Labour, Conservative and the Liberal Democrat vote.

The plot thickens - deals were clearly being done
Bill Aitken
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman

MSPs voted by 73 to 50 with one abstention to pass amendments criticising the Scottish Government.

A Tory amendment said the possibility of releasing Megrahi to a location in Scotland was not adequately explored.

A Liberal Democrat amendment criticised Mr MacAskill for announcing his decision to free Megrahi at a news conference, rather than in parliament.

The Labour amendment accused Mr MacAskill of mishandling the process, and disagreed with the decision to return Megrahi to Libya on compassionate early release.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said after the vote: "The Scottish Parliament has made clear its opposition to both the decision to release Megrahi to Libya and the woeful handling of the decision and announcement."

Annabel Goldie, leader of the Scottish Conservatives said: "Tonight's vote is a clear message to Alex Salmond that the SNP Government's decision to release Mr Megrahi back to Libya is not in the Parliament's name, nor is it in Scotland's name. Mr Salmond's boast that he stands up for Scotland is in tatters."

The debate came a day after the Scottish Government released a list of documents on the case, which revealed that Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell had told the Libyans the prime minister and foreign secretary did not want the Lockerbie bomber to die in a Scottish prison.

Mr Rammell confirmed having made the remarks but denied having discussed this with Gordon Brown.

Kenny MacAskill
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill again defended his decision

Speaking later in Birmingham, the prime minister insisted: "There was no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double dealing, no deal on oil, no attempt to instruct Scottish ministers, no private assurances by me to [Libyan leader] Colonel Gaddafi."

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said the disclosures highlighted Labour's "totally and absolutely ridiculous" position over the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

"The argument is not that the foreign secretary and the prime minister did anything wrong by revealing through the foreign minister to the Libyan government that they did not want Mr Al Megrahi to die in a Scottish prison," he later told parliament.

"What's wrong is that, while they were doing it, Labour in Scotland - either knowing or not knowing about it - tabled a motion attacking the justice secretary."

'Fundamental errors'

During the debate, Kenny MacAskill again defended his decision to release the bomber and reject an application to return Megrahi to Libya under a prisoner transfer deal.

He said he was required to hold his controversial meeting with Megrahi in prison while the case was being considered, and again dismissed opposition claims that the minister had failed to seek sufficient medical advice on the condition of the Lockerbie bomber, who has prostate cancer.

But Scottish Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said the Scottish Government must be held to account for the decision to release Megrahi, which has split opinion at home and abroad.

"I believe we should make clear that there were fundamental errors in the management of this process and therefore the decision to release Mr al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds to Libya is one we cannot agree with," said Mr Baker.

The Scottish Conservatives' Bill Aitken said freeing Megrahi was a "mistake of international proportions" while Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown said "considerable doubt" remained over whether Megrahi fulfilled the criteria for compassionate release.

Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence in Scotland for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie in December 1988.

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