Monday, August 31, 2009

Lockerbie bomber: MacAskill defends Megrahi medical advice

Kenny MacAskill today slammed opoposition parties for doubting Megrahi medical advice

Published Date: 31 August 2009
JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill today hit out at opposition parties who have raised questions over the medical advice he sought before releasing the Lockerbie bomber.
Mr MacAskill sparked international controversy when he freed Libyan Abdalbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, on compassionate grounds earlier this month.

The SNP minister was in Falkirk today for his first official engagement since the decision and also made it clear that trade deals with Libya had no bearing on his judgment.

Megrahi was released after medical advice obtained by Mr MacAskill indicated he had less than three months to live – but Labour have raised questions over this and the extent of the advice sought.

But the Justice Secretary said today: "The medical advice I got was from the director of health and social care from the Scottish Prison Service.

"He did not do this on a whim and fancy.

"The report he provided to me was based on information he got from a variety of people who treated Mr Megrahi before, during and after matters took a turn for the worse. I don't seek to challenge the report from the director.

"I do think it's a matter for regret that some opposition parties do seem to be seeking to undermine him.

"I accepted the report that was given to me, I accepted the information that was collated together and that seems to me the basis that every Justice Secretary has always made their decision on."

He added: "I think it's appropriate that opposition parties should maybe realise that people in public service do their job.

"I follow the guidance when they do their employment and we should support them."

The Cabinet Secretary said he was "not medically qualified" to comment on pictures which emerged yesterday of footage of Mr Megrahi in a hospital bed attached to a drip and wearing an oxygen mask.

Mr MacAskill was today visiting Falkirk fire station to see a new state-of-the-art communications system aimed at improving the safety of front-line firefighters through a priority call function which can request urgent police assistance should crews come under attack.

It comes after letters emerged at the weekend from his UK counterpart Jack Straw dating back two years which indicate the latter was unable to specifically exclude Megrahi from a Prisoner Transfer Agreement negotiated between the UK and Libya.

This came at a crucial time in negotiations about an oil exploration contract for BP in Libya. Six weeks later the deal was ratified, although Mr Straw yesterday denied commercial interests had any bearing on Megrahi's release.

Mr MacAskill said today: "I made it quite clear that my decision was based not on any political, economic or diplomatic considerations.

"I rejected the Prisoner Transfer Agreement which had been a matter of concern to the American families and American government. I thereafter considered in terms of due process in the laws of Scotland and the guidance given by the SPS an application for compassionate release."

The SNP minister reiterated that the Scottish Government had objected to the PTA when it was first agreed but found itself "overruled" by Westminster.

Megrahi was allowed to leave Greenock prison to go home to Libya to die having served just eight years of a minimum 27-year sentence.

The man who was convicted of murdering 270 people in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 returned to a hero's welcome. The scenes provoked international condemnation.

But Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson, who specialised in prostate disease research, later reiterated his criticism of Mr MacAskill, claiming there was no medical consensus about the Libyan's prognosis.

Dr Simpson said: "The Justice Secretary chose to disregard the advice of four specialists and release Megrahi on the opinion of one doctor, who we know was not a specialist.

"At the very least, Kenny Macaskill should have sought a second opinion confirming the patient's prognosis from a specialist in palliative care.

"That he did not do so showed a disregard for due process and the significance of the decision."

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