Lockerbie move 'not terror boost'

The release of the Lockerbie bomber has not given "succour to terrorists", Gordon Brown's spokesman has said.

He acknowledged that the decision, made by the Scottish government, created "strong feelings" among relatives of those killed in the 1988 attack.

The prime minister has been criticised for refusing to comment on the release of terminally ill Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

But his spokesman said it remained a decision for the Scottish government.

Last week Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill allowed Megrahi to be released after serving eight years of his life sentence for the bombing of a US-bound Pan Am flight, in which 270 people were killed.

'Very difficult'

There was fury from families of the victims and US politicians after Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, returned to his native Libya to huge celebrations.

Justice policy in Scotland is a devolved matter, meaning the Scottish - rather than the UK - government is in charge of it.

However, there has been some criticism that Mr Brown did not intervene to try to persuade Mr MacAskill against Megrahi's release, given the international implications. Asked about the message that the decision had sent out, Mr Brown's spokesman said: "I don't see how anyone can argue this has has given succour to terrorists."

Pressed over the possible damage to UK-US relations, the spokesman said: "Clearly the prime minister recognises this was a very difficult decision and was clearly an extremely sensitive one, and that there will be very strong feelings from the families."

Challenged over why Mr Brown would not comment, the spokesman repeatedly said that it was a matter for the Scottish justice secretary.

He said: "It would be wrong to reverse that and take a public decision after the decision. It was and remains a decision for the Scottish justice secretary."

He added: "He [the prime minister] found the scenes at Tripoli airport thoroughly distasteful and fully supports what the foreign secretary and Alistair Darling have said, and will continue to work with the Libyans to ensure that those things are not repeated."

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: "Although the decision to release Megrahi was a Scottish one for which Gordon Brown was not personally responsible, the fallout puts the UK at the centre of an international storm.

"In these circumstances, it is absurd and damaging that the British prime minister simply remains silent in the hope that someone else will take the flak."

BBC political correspondent Norman Smith said Mr Brown would gain little from commenting on the issue, with the danger that he would upset the US government if he backed the release, or alienate the Libyan government if he criticised it.


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