| Kenny MacAskill |
(Author, Lawyer, Politician)
|Born||Kenneth Wright MacAskill|
|Alma mater||University of Edinburgh|
|Party||Scottish National Party|
Kenneth "Kenny" MacAskill (born 28 April 1958) is the Scottish Government's former Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Scottish National Party (SNP) Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) (2007-2014). He was previously a regional MSP for Lothian since 1999, and had been Shadow Justice and Home Affairs Minister.
Kenny MacAskill hit the headlines on 20 August 2009 when he granted "compassionate release" from prison in Scotland to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan man wrongfully convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. In September 2009, it was reported that Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy could have overruled MacAskill and stopped the release of Megrahi if the case was deemed to have breached "international obligations".
- Will you open an independent inquiry into the 2001 Camp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 as called for by the petitioner and for the reasons given in petition PE1370?
- If not, will you provide a detailed explanation why not, specifying whether there is any legislation which would prevent you from holding such an inquiry, what this legislation is and how it prevents?
- Who would have the power to undertake an inquiry in the terms proposed in the petition?
The petitioners are still awaiting answers to these questions!
- 1 Background, early life and career
- 2 Member of the Scottish Parliament (1999 - )
- 3 Cabinet Secretary for Justice (2007 - 2014)
- 4 Megrahi controversy
- 5 Bungled Lockerbie book
- 6 Email Traffic
- 7 Megrahi release "not an issue"
- 8 An Office Holder on Wikispooks
- 9 References
Background, early life and career
Born in Edinburgh, Kenny MacAskill was educated at Linlithgow Academy and Edinburgh University, and was a senior partner in a law firm. He was a long standing member of the SNP's National Executive Committee and has been National Treasurer and Vice Convener of Policy. In 2004, he wrote a book entitled "Building a Nation - Post Devolution Nationalism in Scotland." He has since edited another book "Agenda for a New Scotland - Visions of Scotland 2020" and has co-authored two books on the Scottish Diaspora, "Global Scots - Voices From Afar" and "Wherever the Saltire Flies", with the former First Minister Henry McLeish.
MacAskill came to prominence inside the SNP through his activities in the left wing '79 Group and became a party office bearer. In the 1980s he led the "Can't Pay, Won't Pay" campaign in opposition to the Poll Tax. It was widely known that he often disagreed politically with Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP through the 1990s, and he was at one stage viewed as belonging to the SNP Fundamentalist camp, being perceived to be allied to figures such as Jim Sillars and Alex Neil within the party.
Member of the Scottish Parliament (1999 - )
After MacAskill became an MSP in 1999, upon the establishment of the Scottish Parliament as a regional list member for the Lothians, he moderated his political position, seeing the development of the Scottish Parliament as the most achievable route for Scotland to become an independent nation state. In this respect he was regarded as having adopted a gradualist approach to Scottish independence in place of his previous fundamentalist position. He was one of former SNP leader John Swinney's closest supporters.
In 1999 MacAskill was detained in London before the Euro 2000 second leg play-off football match between Scotland and England on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly. As he was not charged with any crime the incident did not affect his position within the SNP, and he won re-election at the 2003 Scottish Parliament election.
In 2004, after John Swinney stood down as SNP party leader, Kenny MacAskill backed the joint leadership ticket of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. He had initially intended to stand for deputy leader himself on a joint ticket with Nicola Sturgeon, who would have sought the leadership. He gave way when Salmond reconsidered his earlier decision not to seek re-election to the leadership. Upon their election as leader and deputy leader respectively MacAskill was selected to be the SNP's deputy leader in the Scottish Parliament, making him the shadow Deputy First Minister.
Kenny MacAskill authored a book, "Building a Nation - Post Devolution Nationalism in Scotland", which was launched at the SNP's 2004 annual conference in Inverness. He has since edited another book "Agenda for a New Scotland - Visions of Scotland 2020" and has co-authored "Global Scots - Voices From Afar" with former First Minister Henry McLeish.
Cabinet Secretary for Justice (2007 - 2014)
For the 2007 Scottish Parliament election MacAskill was top of the SNP's party list for the Lothians region. He stood in the Edinburgh East and Musselburgh constituency, winning that seat from the Scottish Labour Party with a 13.3% swing to give a majority of 1,382. This was the first time the SNP had ever won a parliamentary seat in Edinburgh. After the SNP's victory at the 2007 election, MacAskill became the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.
One of MacAskill's first acts as a cabinet secretary was to lift the ban on alcohol sales at international rugby union games held at Murrayfield Stadium.
MacAskill also insisted that the 2007 terror attack on Glasgow Airport was not committed by 'home-grown' terrorists in that the suspects were not "born or bred" in Scotland but had merely lived in the country for a "period of time".
MacAskill won election to a redrawn constituency of Edinburgh Eastern in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election. Despite notionally facing a deficit of 550 votes, MacAskill won by over 2000 votes.
On 19 August 2009, Kenny MacAskill rejected an application by Libya to transfer to their custody Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of the Pan Am Flight 103 bomb that killed 270 people, acknowledging that "the American families and Government had an expectation or were led to believe that there would be no prisoner transfer."  "Immediately after announcing this decision," however, MacAskill authorised al-Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds. Megrahi had served 8½ years of a life sentence, but doctors certified that he had developed prostate cancer and had "only a very short period of time to live". The Justice Secretary has discretionary authority to order such a release, and MacAskill has taken sole responsibility for the decision.
The Scottish Parliament was recalled from its Summer break, for the third time since its creation, to receive a statement from and to question MacAskill. The opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament passed amendments criticising the decision and the way it was made, but no motions of confidence in MacAskill or in the Scottish Government were tabled.
In the United States, whence 180 of the 270 victims came, the decision met with broad hostility. Political figures including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against it, and families of the victims expressed indignation over the decision. FBI director Robert Mueller, who had been a lead investigator in the 1988 bombing, wrote a highly critical open letter to MacAskill. Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish was critical of Mueller's attack on the decision.
In Britain, reaction was divided. Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, former First Minister Jack McConnell, and former Scottish Office minister Brian Wilson criticised the decision, while Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, former Labour MP Tam Dalyell and former British ambassador to Libya Richard Dalton publicly supported it. Ian Galloway and Mario Conti, representatives of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church respectively, also spoke in favour of the release.
John Mosey, a priest who lost a daughter on Pan Am Flight 103, expressed his disappointment that halting Megrahi’s appeal before it went to court meant that the public would never hear "this important evidence — the six separate grounds for appeal that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) felt were important enough to put forward, that could show that there’s been a miscarriage of justice." Saif al-Islam Gaddafi reiterated his belief in Megrahi's innocence commenting that the Justice Secretary had "made the right decision" and that history would prove this to be the case. A letter in support of MacAskill's decision was sent to the Scottish Government on behalf of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Bungled Lockerbie book
A fortnight before publication on 26 May 2016, Kenny MacAskill's book "The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice" was serialised in the Sunday Times. In a review, Alex Salmond said:
- "This book details the duplicity of UK and US governments who condemned the [Megrahi] release while negotiating commercial deals with the Gaddafi regime. It tells of the pressures on the judicial system of Scotland from the global controversy and a Justice Secretary's search for justice. It ends with the most credible explanation yet published of who was really responsible for the downing of Pan Am Flight 103. A must-read book by the man in the eye of the storm."
On 15 May 2016, in an article headed "Kenny MacAskill’s bungled Lockerbie book", John Ashton wrote:
- The book’s blurb casts the author as sleuth, claiming he “answers how and why [the bombing] happened – and who was really responsible.” Unfortunately, however, today’s extract merely recycles others’ assertions and, worse still, contains numerous factual errors, distortions and speculative claims. Anyone who claimed Megrahi’s innocence based on so many unsupported claims would, of course, be branded a conspiracy theorist, but that is exactly what Mr MacAskill is. It is clear that his account relies heavily on Crown sources, which may account for his failure to mention key exculpatory evidence.
- The book does, however, make one major concession, in the following line: “Clothes in the suitcase that carried the bomb were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi.”
- As anyone familiar with the case knows, the guilty verdict against Megrahi was reliant upon the claim that he bought the clothes. Without it, the conviction falls.
Jurisdiction of Scots law
On 5 November 2009, former diplomat Patrick Haseldine received the following email:
- Dear Mr Haseldine
- Thank you for your email of 19 October 2009 to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Mr MacAskill, about the Lockerbie Air Disaster.
- As you will know, on 20 August 2009, Mr MacAskill rejected the Libyan Government’s application for Prisoner Transfer of Mr Al-Megrahi, and granted compassionate release to Mr Al-Megrahi to allow him to return home to Libya to die.
- The full statement and further documentation can be found on our website: www.scotland.gov.uk/lockerbie.
- In your email, you raise questions about the investigation into the Lockerbie Air Disaster. Mr Al-Megrahi was convicted of murder by a Scottish court, and was given a life sentence. In Mr MacAskill’s statement on 20 August, Mr MacAskill confirmed that he accepts the conviction and sentence imposed. However, he acknowledged that there remain concerns to some on the wider issues of the Lockerbie atrocity. This is a global issue and international in its nature. The questions to be asked and answered are beyond the jurisdiction of Scots law and the restricted remit of the Scottish Government. If a further inquiry were felt to be appropriate, Mr MacAskill noted that it should be initiated by those with the required power and authority and committed that the Scottish Government would be happy to fully co-operate in such an inquiry.
- I hope this information is helpful.
- Linda Miller
- Scottish Government
On 6 November 2009, Patrick Haseldine emailed this response:
- Dear Mr MacAskill,
- Thank you for yesterday's reply to my email of 19 October 2009, which requested your support for a United Nations Inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster - see following extract from Wikipedia:
- "Prior to the abandonment of Megrahi's second appeal against conviction and while new evidence could be still tested in court, there had been few calls for an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing. Demands for such an inquiry have increased since, and become more insistent. On 2 September 2009, former MEP Michael McGowan demanded that the British Government call for an urgent, independent inquiry led by the United Nations to find out the truth about Pan Am Flight 103.
- "We owe it to the families of the victims of Lockerbie and the international community to identify those responsible," McGowan said.
- Two online petitions were started: one calling for a UK Public Inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing; the other a United Nations Inquiry into the murder of UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
- In September 2009, a third petition, which was addressed to the President of the United Nations General Assembly, demanded that the UN should 'institute a full public inquiry' into the Lockerbie disaster.
- On 3 October 2009, Malta was asked to table a UN resolution supporting the petition, which was signed by 20 people including the families of the Lockerbie victims, authors, journalists, professors, politicians and parliamentarians, as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The signatories considered that a UN Inquiry could help remove 'many of the deep misgivings which persist in lingering over this tragedy' and could also eliminate Malta from this terrorist act. Malta was brought into the case because the prosecution argued that the two accused Libyans, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, had placed the bomb on an Air Malta aircraft before it was transferred at Frankfurt airport to a feeder flight destined for London's Heathrow airport, from which Pan Am Flight 103 departed. The Maltese government responded saying that the demand for a UN Inquiry was 'an interesting development that would be deeply considered, although there were complex issues surrounding the event'."
- I am one of the 20 signatories of September's open letter addressed to the President of the UN General Assembly (see attachment 1 below) asking the United Nations to 'institute a full public inquiry'. I'm very pleased to note from your statement that you have committed the Scottish Government to 'fully co-operate in such an inquiry'. However, a UN member state must first table a resolution at the General Assembly, and get a majority of votes in favour, before a Lockerbie Inquiry can be instituted.
- On 3 October 2009, another signatory, Professor Robert Black QC, wrote to Malta's Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Tonio Borg, requesting Malta to table the necessary UNGA resolution (see Attachment 2). We are hoping for a favourable response to this request from the Maltese Government.
- This week, Malta's Prime Minister, Lawrence Gonzi refused to have Tony Gauci, the chief prosecution witness, interrogated:
- "Our position was always that Malta had nothing to do with the terrorist attack and it has never changed. Over the years we cooperated with every investigation and we think there is nothing to justify a change".
- I think it would be helpful at this stage if you were to take an early opportunity to contact the Maltese Government, and reiterate your pledge that the Scottish Government will co-operate fully in a [Malta-sponsored] United Nations Inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster.
- Yours sincerely,
- Patrick Haseldine
- HM Diplomatic Service (Ret'd)
These are the signatories of September's open letter to UNGA president, Dr Ali Treki:
- Mr John Ashton, (Co-author of "Cover-up of Convenience: The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie").
- Mrs Jean Berkley, (Co-ordinator UK Families Flight 103 and mother of Alistair Berkley: Pan Am 103 victim).
- Professor Robert Black QC, (Commonly referred to as the "Architect of the Camp van Zeist Trial").
- Professor Noam Chomsky, (Emeritus Professor of Linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
- Mr Tam Dalyell, (Member of Parliament: 1962 – 2005, Father of the House: 2001 – 2005).
- Mr Ian Ferguson, (Co-author of "Cover-up of Convenience: The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie").
- Mr Robert Forrester, ('Justice for Megrahi' campaign committee member).
- Ms Christine Grahame, (Member of the Scottish Parliament and Justice campaigner).
- Mr Patrick Haseldine, (Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service – Retired).
- Mr Ian Hislop, (Editor of Private Eye: one of the UK’s most highly regarded journals of political comment).
- Father Pat Keegans, (Lockerbie Parish Priest at the time of the bombing of Pan Am 103).
- Mr Iain McKie, (Retired Police Superintendent and Justice campaigner).
- Ms Heather Mills, (Reporter for Private Eye specialising in matters relating to Pan Am Flight 103).
- Mr Denis Phipps, (Aviation security expert).
- Mr Steven Raeburn, (Editor of The Firm, one of Scotland’s foremost legal journals).
- Doctor Jim Swire, (Justice campaigner. Dr Swire’s daughter, Flora, was killed in the Pan Am 103 incident).
- Mr Abdullah Swissi (Former President of the Libyan Students’ Union in Scotland and Libyan Student Affairs of the Libyan Students’ Union, UK Branch).
- Sir Teddy Taylor (Former Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Member of Parliament from 1964 to 2005).
- His Grace, Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, (Defender of human rights worldwide, Nobel Peace Prize winner, headed South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is Chairman of the Global Elders).
- Mr Bob Watts, (Businessman and Justice for Megrahi campaign committee member).
On 19 November 2009, George Burgess, Deputy Director of the Criminal Justice Directorate sent Patrick Haseldine a letter of acknowledgment.
UN Inquiry into Lockerbie
Haseldine emailed Mr Burgess on 7 February 2010:
- Dear Mr Burgess,
- Thank you for the attached letter, which was referenced 2009/0034178OR and dated 19 November 2009, in response to my email of 6 November 2009 concerning a UN Inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster.
- The United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, was the most prominent of the 270 people murdered at Lockerbie on 21 December 1988. Yet the criminal investigation of Bernt Carlsson's murder appears to have been both peremptory and superficial, according to the account given by Scottish police detective John Crawford.
- In his book, "The Lockerbie Incident: A Detective's Tale" DC Crawford wrote:
- "We even went as far as consulting a very helpful lady librarian in Newcastle who contacted us with information she had on Bernt Carlsson. She provided much of the background on the political moves made by Carlsson on behalf of the United Nations. He had survived a previous attack on an aircraft he had been travelling on in Africa. It is unlikely that he was a target as the political scene in Southern Africa was moving inexorably towards its present state. No matter what happened to Carlsson after he had completed his mission in Namibia the political changes were already well in place and his demise would not have altered anything. This would have made a nonsense of any alleged assassination attempt on him as it would not have achieved anything. I discounted the theory as being almost totally beyond the realms of feasibility.
- "We eventually produced a report on all fifteen [the 'first fifteen' of the interline passengers] to the SIO Stuart Henderson, each person had their own story and as many antecedents as we could gather. The other teams had also finished their profiles of their group of interline passengers. None of them had found anything which could categorically put any of the interline passengers into any frame as a target, dupe or anything else other than a victim of crime."
- I should be grateful to have an extract of the 'first fifteen' report to DCS Henderson which deals specifically with the murder of Bernt Carlsson.
- Thanking you in anticipation,
- Patrick Haseldine
Government "not involved"
On 11 February 2010, Mr Burgess emailed the following reply:
- Mr Haseldine
- You ask for an extract of the "first fifteen" report referred to in John Crawford’s book. As I am sure you are aware, the Scottish Government itself is not involved in the conduct of criminal investigations. That responsibility lies with the police, under the direction of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. There is therefore no reason why we would have a copy of the "first fifteen" report. I suggest that you contact Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary or the Crown Office.
- W GEORGE BURGESS
- Deputy Director
On 5 May 2010, George Burgess emailed this letter to Patrick Haseldine:
- Dear Mr Haseldine,
- Thank you for your message of 3 May 2010 to Mike Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning. In it you ask Mr Russell to prevail upon Kenny MacAskill MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, to "lay down the law and insist that Commissioner Carlsson's murder at Lockerbie is investigated".
- As you will recall from my email of 11 February 2010, the Scottish Government itself is not involved in the conduct of criminal investigations. That responsibility lies with the police, under the direction of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Mr MacAskill is therefore not in a position to do what you ask.
- Yours sincerely,
- W GEORGE BURGESS
- Deputy Director
- Criminal Law & Licensing Division
- Criminal Justice Directorate
- Scottish Government
Megrahi release "not an issue"
After MacAskill won re-election to the Scottish Parliament in 2011, an SNP supporter said that the decision to release Megrahi had been mentioned by very few voters and was not an issue during the election campaign.
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi died on 20 May 2012.
On 11 March 2020, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to the High Court of Justiciary for a posthumous appeal against his conviction. Kenny MacAskill wrote to The Scotsman:
That isn’t a criticism of those who presided at the Camp Zeist Trial as that wasn’t known to them. But it’s unacceptable in Scottish trials for a witness to be paid. Moreover, the judges then were caustic in comments about another witness who had been rewarded by the CIA.
That’s a travesty as since the fall of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi both new information and more importantly new witnesses, if not accused, have come to light.
He’s now living an opulent life in Qatar whilst others that he served with rot in jails in Tripoli. They include Gaddafi’s henchman Abdullah Senussi and even the man believed by many to have been the bomber.
They’ll have been spoken to by the Americans if not the British and other bit-part players were also extracted. Will the information they provided be heard and will any of them even be charged?
An Office Holder on Wikispooks
|Kenny MacAskill||17 May 2007||21 November 2014|
- "Powers to stop Megrahi move held by Brown"
- "Three Lockerbie Questions"
- "Nicola Sturgeon reshuffle brings gender balance"
- "Arrest incident 'closed', insists SNP", BBC News, 25 November 1999
- "Murrayfield toasts lifting of drinks ban", The Times 9 June 2007
- "Terrorists not 'home-grown'", BBC News 1 July 2007
- "Key Holyrood election battles"
- "Scottish election: SNP changes Edinburgh political map"
- UK Cabinet Office, Cabinet Secretary's Review of Papers Relating to the Release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi 11 ¶ 31 (Feb. 7, 2011) available at www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/20110207-megrahi-review-report.pdf
- Id., 12 ¶ 32.
- "Cancer expert says Megrahi is not responding to treatment"
- "Transcript: Scotland official talks of Lockerbie release"
- [http://www.scotsman.com/latestnews/Lockerbie-bomber-debate--live.5582360.jp "Lockerbie bomber debate - as it happened"
- "Holyrood recall over freed bomber"
- "SNP defeated over bomber release", BBC News, 2 September 2009.
- "Man Convicted in Lockerbie Bombing Is Released From Scottish Prison"
- "Barack Obama attacks decision to free Lockerbie bomber"
- See, e.g., http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/08/20/scotland.lockerbie.bomber/index.html; http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/aug/20/lockerbie-scotland-usa-release; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/6061461/Lockerbie-bomber-Abdelbaset-Ali-Mohmed-Al-Megrahi-leaves-Scotland-bound-for-Libya.html; http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/aug/20/lockerbie-bomber-release-libya-obama
- "The full letter from the FBI Director on the Lockerbie bomber release
- "FBI chief's attack 'out of order' - McLeish"
- See http://www.publicservantscotland.co.uk/news_story.asp?id=10472; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/6080538/Kenny-MacAskill-to-face-furious-MSPs-over-Lockerbie-bomber-release.html; http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/aug/23/gordon-brown-letter-gaddafi-lockerbie; "Lockerbie bomber: The SNP's Libya stunt has shamed my nation"
- "Alex Salmond defends release of Lockerbie bomber"
- BBC News.
- "FBI chief's attack 'out of order' - Conti", BBC News, 24 August 2009.
- "Lockerbie, the Unanswered Questions"
- "Efforts to release Lockerbie bomber linked with trade, says Gaddafi's son"
- "Mandela backs Lockerbie decision"
- "The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice"
- "Kenny MacAskill’s bungled Lockerbie book"
- "Lawrence Gonzi on Lockerbie"
- "Three petitions for a Lockerbie Inquiry"
- "Signatories of September's open letter to UNGA president, Dr Ali Treki"
- "The Lockerbie Incident: A Detective's Tale" (pages 88/89)
- "Martin Hannan: The battle for independence starts now"
- "Lockerbie bombing: Megrahi case review may not provide closure but there are people who might be able to – Kenny MacAskill"