KENNY MacAskill, the Justice Secretary of the Scottish Executive, has taken a lot of criticism and abuse over the past week as he prepared to make a statement on the future of Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan found guilty of the
1988 Pan Am aircraft bombing and in 2001 sentenced to serve 27 years imprisonment in a Scottish jail. Mr Megrahi has serious prostate cancer with only three months or so to live. The issue Mr MacAskill has faced is whether he should release Megrahi to return to his home in Libya on compassionate grounds. Yesterday he announced what he said was his, and only his, decision.

It was to release Megrahi -- who by now is back in Libya.

Mr MacAskill's twenty-five minute statement was a model of rigorous logic as he went through every stage of the process by which he had reached his decision, including the consultations he had held with American and British families whose relatives and friends lost their lives in the doomed aircraft in 1998 and with senior US administration figures who have called for Megrahi to be held in jail. There was, however, one missing piece in Mr MacAskill's presentation. He said many Americans believed that at some point British authorities had given assurances that Megrahi would serve his full sentence if found guilty; MacAskill had asked Whitehall for documents relating to any such assurance but was told they were not available. Understandably, he said he regretted that. This story still has far to run.


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