Scottish ministers decline US request for Justice Sec MacAskill to attend Lockerbie hearing

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Scotland declines to attend US Lockerbie hearing

LONDON — Scottish ministers have declined a request to attend a U.S. Senate hearing into the circumstances surrounding the release of the Lockerbie bomber, a spokesman for the Scottish government said Thursday.

BP PLC said that CEO Tony Hayward was also asked to attend the hearing but had not made a decision about the invitation.

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations wrote to the Scottish administration inviting Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and the Scottish Prison Service’s medical chief, Andrew Fraser, to attend the hearing in Washington on July 29.

Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, wrote to First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, saying that the invitation was to help the senators better understand why Scotland decided to free Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from jail last year and send him home to Libya.

In particular, the senators are probing whether an oil exploration deal between oil giant BP and Libya influenced the decision to release al-Megrahi.

Megrahi was convicted of the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airline that slammed into the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people, most of them Americans.

He served eight years of a life sentence in a Scottish prison, but was released last August on compassionate grounds because doctors said he was cancer-stricken and had only three months to live. He is still alive nearly a year later, and that has infuriated many people on both sides of the Atlantic.

A spokesman for the Scottish government confirmed Thursday that the invitation to MacAskill and Fraser had been turned down.

BP spokesman Mark Salt also confirmed that Hayward had received an invitation to the same hearing.

“We have received the invitation and we are considering it,” Salt said.

Both Salmond and British Foreign Secretary William Hague had written to Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to stress that there was nothing to suggest BP had influenced the Scottish government.

Also Thursday, the BBC and Sky News reported that former British justice secretary Jack Straw had also been invited to the Senate hearing.

Straw said in a statement he had not received any formal invitation, but commented that it was “highly unusual” for the U.S. to inquire into the British decision.

“It is in my experience highly unusual for the legislature of one sovereign state to conduct an inquiry into decisions of another sovereign state,” he said.

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