Page last updated at 16:02 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 17:02 UK

'Support' over Lockerbie bomber

Kenny MacAskill
Mr MacAskill insists he was right to release Megrahi

The SNP minister who released the Lockerbie bomber has claimed to have since won support for the decision from unnamed Labour MPs and MSPs.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill freed terminally-ill Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi in August, on compassionate grounds.

Addressing the SNP conference in Inverness, Mr MacAskill insisted the decision was the right one.

His arrival in the conference hall was greeted by a standing ovation.

Delegates also gave Mr MacAskill a second ovation at the end of his 17-minute speech.

Megrahi, the only person ever convicted over the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988, had been serving his sentence in a Scottish jail before his release.

Scotland's laws and Scottish values dictate that justice must be done but that mercy must be available
Kenny MacAskill

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has refused to say whether he agreed with the decision because justice was devolved to Holyrood, although Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray opposed it.

Mr MacAskill did not name his supporters, but told the conference: "Many Labour MPs and MSPs have since told me that they agreed with my decision, but none of them have spoken out."

He said only the Labour MSP and former minister Malcolm Chisholm had shown the "courage of his convictions" by openly supporting the decision.

He went on: "Scotland's laws and Scottish values dictate that justice must be done but that mercy must be available.

"To act otherwise would be to discard the values by which we seek to live and debase the beliefs which we seek to uphold.

"I said in parliament that it was my decision and my decision alone. It was not based on political, economic or diplomatic grounds.

"It was the right way, for the right reasons and I believe it was the right decision."

Knife crime

Moving away from the Lockerbie case, Mr MacAskill also told the conference that Scotland's eight police forces would be issued with new portable metal detectors to tackle Scotland's knife crime problem.

The Scottish government has invested £90,000 in the equipment, which the minister said could be used in a range of settings - from nightclubs to football grounds.

And turning to another historical Scottish problem, alcohol, Mr MacAskill took a swipe at opponents to the government's proposals on minimum drink pricing.

He told the conference: "Those who seek the right to sell cheap, high-strength drink in our communities - irrespective of the harm it causes - should hang their heads in shame."



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