Lockerbie bomber release puts Scotland under fire
The release of the Lockerbie bomber has damaged the reputation of Scotland across the globe, former Labour first minister Jack McConnell has warned.
He condemned the move and said it must be made clear it was not done in the name of the Scottish people.
Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was freed from Greenock prison on Thursday to be allowed home to Libya to die.
The Scottish Government has insisted that Megrahi, who has cancer, was freed “for the right reasons”.
The bomber’s release – and the hero’s welcome he was given on return to Libya – provoked anger from many relatives of those who died aboard Pan-Am flight 103, particularly in the US.
A total of 270 people died when the transatlantic airliner came down over Lockerbie in 1988.
Speaking to BBC Scotland, Mr McConnell said the sight of the Scottish flag being waved as Megrahi arrived back in Libya had brought shame on Scotland.
He said: “The way in which the decision has been made and the decision itself have damaged the reputation of the Scottish justice system – historically our legal system has had a fantastic international reputation.
“It’s damaged that reputation, but much more significantly it’s also damaged the reputation of Scotland internationally.
“I think it’s absolutely vital that the Scottish Parliament now takes action to limit that damage and to give a clear indication to the rest of the world that when the Scottish Government made this decision they were not acting with the support of the people of Scotland.”
He said the decision was a “grave error of judgement” and claimed there had been other options for additional compassionate relief without Megrahi being freed.
The attack comes the day after the director of the FBI accused Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill of having made a “mockery of justice”.
‘True to values’
Announcing the release on Thursday, Mr MacAskill said the Scottish justice system was based on both judgement and compassion.
“Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people – no matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated,” he said.
The Scottish Parliament has been recalled and will meet on Monday to discuss the release.
A spokesman for Mr MacAskill said: “The justice secretary reached his conclusions on the basis of due process, clear evidence, and recommendations from the parole board and prison governor.
“Now that Mr MacAskill has made his statement, parliament has requested a recall, and Mr MacAskill is pleased to answer any and all questions which MSPs have.”
International pressure over the handling of the release and the welcome Megrahi was given in Tripoli have continued to mount.
Cheering crowds, some waving Saltires, greeted his arrival, despite pleas for sensitivity from the US and UK governments.
Colonel Gadaffi has said that Prime Minister Gordon Brown had “encouraged” the Scottish Government to take what he called a “courageous” decision, but the Foreign Office has strongly denied claims it was linked to a trade deal between the UK and Libya.
The claim was made by Saif al-Islam, the son of Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi’s, who told Libyan TV Megrahi’s case was “always on the negotiating table” during talks with the UK on commercial contracts.
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said such a suggestion was “not only wrong” but “actually quite offensive”.