Gordon Brown

Scotland’s Justice Secretary accused Libya of breaking a promise not to give freed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi a hero’s welcome on his return home, PA reports.

 ”It is a matter of great regret that Mr Megrahi was received in such an inappropriate manner,” Kenny MacAskill told an emergency session of the Scottish Parliament. “It showed no compassion or sensitivity to the families of the 270 victims of Lockerbie.”

UPDATE

The Libyan was greeted by crowds, some waving Scottish flags, when he landed at Tripoli on Thursday after being released on compassionate grounds by Mr MacAskill because he is dying from prostate cancer, adds Andrew Bolger, the FT’s Scotland correspondent.

“It showed no compassion or sensitivity to the families of the 270 victims of Lockerbie,” said Mr MacAskill. “Assurances had been given by the Libyan government that any return would be dealt with in a low-key and sensitive fashion.”

Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour leader at Holyrood, said the Scottish National party government made “a wrong decision, in the wrong way, with the wrong consequences”.

Mr Gray said: “Does he understand how much his decision has angered the silent majority in Scotland? Does he understand how ashamed we were to see our flag flying to welcome a convicted bomber home?”

Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative leader, said: “I want to make clear that the decision to release Mr Megrahi was not done in the name of Scotland or in the name of this parliament or in my name.”

Ms Goldie asked why, if Mr Megrahi’s condition was so severe that keeping him in prison is inhumane, could he not have been released to a secure house or a hospice or a hospital in Scotland.

She said: “Is this SNP government seriously suggesting that our Scottish police who coped so admirably with security arrangements for G8 Leaders could not adequately protect Mr Megrahi?”

Gordon Brown kicked off the week by congratulating England’s cricket team for winning the Ashes while maintaining a dogged silence over the decision by the Scottish government to release the Lockerbie bomber.

The prime minister’s spokesman insisted it would be inappropriate for Mr Brown to comment on a matter that “was and remains a matter for the Scottish justice secretary”, in spite of a wave of anger over the decision in the US and UK.

That assertion has been greeted with scepticism in the media and Tory circles, where it has been noted that Mr Brown is usually free with his opinions on a range of less weighty issues, including cricket or reality television shows.

But Mr Brown’s reticence is unsurprising, given that the decision by Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s justice secretary, to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is perhaps the least worst outcome from the prime minister’s perspective.

Firstly the convicted Libyan bomber’s release on compassionate grounds will further warm relations between Tripoli and London (Colonel Gadaffi is unlikely to care a great deal about the constitutional niceties of Scottish devolution) and will improve trading links between the two countries.

Secondly the whole affair has backfired badly on Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, who now finds himself embroiled in a high-level dispute with Washington. Mr Brown cannot abide Mr Salmond, the SNP leader whose government is now under severe pressure.

If Mr Brown criticises the decision, he will annoy the Colonel; if he backs the SNP government in Scotland, he will infuriate the Americans. Silence is perhaps his best policy.

Nevertheless, he will face more tough questioning on his own personal view when he returns to Downing St on Tuesday for talks with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown today held breakfast talks with Muammar Gaddafi, touching on oil price volatility, improving bilateral relations between Britain and Libya and the sensitive issue of the Lockerbie bombing.

In their first head-to-head meeting, the colonel asked Mr Brown for help in the case of the dying former Libyan agent who is appealing against a life sentence for the 1988 attack.

The Scottish Appeal Court said this week the case would not be concluded until next year, raising concerns that 57-year-old Abdel Basset al-Megrahi – who is suffering from terminal prostate cancer – will die before the appeal finishes.

Mr Brown deftly passed the buck to his old adversary Alex Salmond, the Scotland first minister, pointing out that the Scottish National party leader was responsible for dealing with the issue.

Silvio Berlusconi’s wise decision to avoid over-the-top banqueting arrangements at the G8 summit has been welcomed by summiteers in L’Aquila but the menus have not gone down well with everyone.

Sarah Brown, wife of the British prime minister, complains today that she is tiring of being presented with veal, a meat she refuses to eat on ethical grounds because of allegedly cruel production methods.

Writing on Twitter, she said: “Am hoping that no veal served at lunch again
today – have declined it twice this trip as just feel very strongly about it.”

But it hasn’t been all terrible for Mrs Brown. On Thursday she hooked up with George Clooney for a tour of the earthquake damage in L’Aquila.

Silvio Berlusconi was beaming by the  end of the day, clearly relieved  that the summit was going well and that world leaders had greeted him as an old friend. Gordon Brown even gave him a hug.

“This day has been payback for all the bitterness I have been through,” the prime minister said, cited by Agi news agency, referring to the “absurd attacks” on him in the media over his controversial private life of parties attended by call girls. “These days encourage me to go on,” he added.

“I am proud to have accomplished almost a miracle,” he was quoted as saying by Apicom.

Rumours were rife among Italian reporters that Mr Berlusconi would not deliver the press conference he had committed to because he was afraid of more questioning about his private life from the foreign media contingent. Aides suggested he might be too busy.

But in the end he spoke to a packed audience, delivering a resounding  speech on the accomplishments of the day. Finishing with a flourish, he looked down and said “Questions?” and before anyone could even mutter the world “scandal”, he thanked everyone and walked off.

Newsblog



Follow the news with reports from the FT's newsrooms and correspondents across the globe.
Track on twitter

About the authors

Leyla Boulton is an editor on the FT's main newsdesk
Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson is the FT's media editor
Robin Harding is an FT correspondent in Tokyo
George Parker is the FT's political editor
Sean Smith is an editor on the FT's international companies desk

FT blogs