Saturday, May 30, 2009

Law & Order : Justice Secretary MacAskill personally approved leave for escaped murderer

Scotland’s hapless Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is in deep trouble again, this time he personally approved leave for a convicted murderer, who promptly went on the run. (When will Kenny go on the run ? – Ed)

The Scotsman reports :

MacAskill approved leave for murderer who went on run

Published Date: 30 May 2009
By David Maddox, Scottish Political Correspondent

JUSTICE secretary Kenny MacAskill personally signed the order allowing a convicted murderer to go on temporary leave before he absconded, it has emerged.

The revelation has heaped yet more pressure on the beleaguered minister as he fights to save his job.

He was forced to deny rumours he had already quit yesterday after it emerged he had decided not to attend today's Homecoming Scottish Cup final at Hampden.

It has also emerged that the absconder, John Brown, had already had his licence revoked once before because he had failed to meet his conditions by not turning up for appointments with the police.

The issue has blown up because of anger over another escape by a dangerous criminal, Brian Martin, a week before.

Mr MacAskill was forced to admit that Martin – known as the Hawk – who was serving time for armed robbery, should never have been put into an open prison.

To add to the justice secretary's woes, more questions have been asked about why he did not inform MSPs of Brown's escape, even though the issue of absconders was raised in First Minister's Questions on Thursday.

The Scottish Government said this was because it was up to Tayside Police to issue a statement on the escape.

However, both government officials and Tayside Police have admitted no discussion took place over what could be said, even though ministers were expecting the issue to be raised in the parliament.

Labour and the Tories called on Mr MacAskill to step down, with Labour starting a petition demanding he be sacked.

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "Mr MacAskill keeps on with his monologue about operational responsibility, but he personally signed off a murderer's release and yet takes no responsibility.

"He is guilty of gross political cowardice."

However, opposition parties have been criticised by the Prison Officers Association and Dr Andrew McLellan, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, for playing politics on the issue.

They warned that the row could undermine the use of open prisons.

Privately, Scottish Government insiders admit it has been "a very difficult time", fuelling speculation that the minister may go.

But a spokesman said: "There is no reason for him to go. Absconds have dropped dramatically under Kenny MacAskill to one-fifth the level they were under Labour and one-eighth under the Tories."

Salmond faces probe over failure to tell MSPs of hunt for convict

ALEX Salmond, the First Minister, looks set to be investigated following claims that he misled parliament.

Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour leader, has reported Mr Salmond to a special committee after he failed to tell MSPs on Thursday about an abscondence from Castle Huntly.

Mr Salmond answered questions on the recently recaptured absconder Brian Martin but, while praising his government's record, he failed to mention that convicted murderer John Burt Brown had escaped the night before.

Mr Gray said this means the First Minister broke the ministerial code by withholding information and misinforming parliament.

The referral was described as "cheap party-political point-scoring" by a Scottish Government source.

Former Presiding Officers Sir David Steel and George Reid will now consider the issue and decide whether they believe the code was breached.

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