Sunday, August 30, 2009

MacAskill defied rules on release


Lockerbie bomber’s length of sentence ignored



Published Date: 30 August 2009
By Eddie Barnes Political Editor
KENNY MacAskill was facing mounting pressure over his decision to release the Lockerbie bomber last night amid further claims he acted against official guidelines.
KENNY MacAskill was facing mounting pressure over his decision to release the Lockerbie bomber last night amid further claims he acted against official guidelines.

The justice secretary allowed Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi to walk free despite guidance stating that the bomber's 27-year minimum sentence should have been taken into account. MacAskill will now appear before the Scottish Parliament this week where he could face a joint vote from opposition parties condemning his decision.

Documents obtained from the Scottish Prison Service show that before granting compassionate release, the authorities should consider "the length of the sentence outstanding, the effect on the overall sentence if early release is granted and any comments that the trial judge made on sentencing which may have a bearing on the question of early release".

In 2001, describing his crime as "horrendous", the High Court judge Lord Sutherland first ruled that Megrahi serve 20 years. Three years later, he increased that to 27 years. Even then, the Crown launched an appeal, claiming that this tougher sentence was too lenient.

When he was released ten days ago, Megrahi had served only eight years.

With polls showing that a majority of the Scottish public opposed the release, it also emerged last night that:

• The UK Government decided to make Megrahi eligible for return to Libya under a separate prison transfer agreement because negotiations with the oil-rich country were reaching a "critical stage". Within weeks of bowing to pressure to Libya and making Megrahi part of the deal, the north African country ratified a deal with BP for exploration rights in the country.

• US Government insiders say they "would have done almost anything" to persuade MacAskill to keep Megrahi in Scottish jurisdiction – including the option of him being freed to live with his family in Scotland.

• Megrahi wants to see a public inquiry into his case, and is promising to write an autobiography setting out his version of events.

The Scottish Parliament will hold a full debate on the decision on Wednesday, when MacAskill is likely to argue that freeing Megrahi was the only real alternative, and he had received the backing of the prison service, the parole board and government officials.

The SNP Government will also point out that the same SPS guidance instructed MacAskill to consider whether keeping Megrahi in jail would have shortened his life span, as doctors feared.

But the new revelation about the sentencing guidelines comes after doubts were raised last week about whether the medical evidence required to free Megrahi on compassionate grounds was conclusive.

The same SPS guidance stipulates that a life expectancy of around three months is "an appropriate time" to consider release. Dr Andrew Fraser, the Prison Service's director of health told MacAskill on 10 August that three months was a "reasonable estimate" in Megrahi's case. However, it also emerged that four consultants who had been involved in his case had been "not willing" to offer a prognosis.

Richard Baker, Labour's justice spokesman, said: "It looks increasingly as if Mr MacAskill made up his mind to release Megrahi and then tried to marshal evidence and paperwork to justify it."

Scotland on Sunday also understands that, in the days before Megrahi's release, the US government "tried everything" to persuade MacAskill to keep the bomber in Scotland.

MacAskill told the Scottish Parliament last week that he had ruled out the option, because of the "severe" problems it would have caused the police.

However, UK Ministers were also under fire last night as it emerged they had gone back on a pledge made to the SNP Government to keep Megrahi out of a prison transfer agreement with Libya. They switched their position as Libya used its deal with BP as a bargaining chip to insist the Lockerbie bomber was included in the agreement.

In December 2007, Straw wrote to the SNP: "The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom, I have agreed that in this instance the (prisoner transfer agreement] should be in the standard form and not mention any individual."

Within six weeks of the government climbdown, Libya had ratified the BP deal. UK officials last night said the matter was "academic" because MacAskill last week turned down the Libyan request for Megrahi to return under the agreement, choosing instead to release him on compassionate grounds.

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Woops I guess you call that covering you butt!!!

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