Eyes of the world on MacAskill’s bomber release speech

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By Michael MacLeod

THE eyes of the world were on him, the pressure of the past weeks and months boiling down to this one, final moment.

So it was little wonder Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, the lawyer turned politician, suffered from a touch of last minute nerves given the gravitas if what was involved.

Journalists from as far as Lebanon squeezed in alongside photographers who were forced to sprawl on the floor at MacAskill’s feet.

Seconds before he took to the podium in the Scottish Government’s media lounge at St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh, an advisor ducked behind a curtain to open a window to cool the packed press conference.

And as he made his entrance, half-a-dozen of MacAskill’s closest advisors slipped into the room via the back door to give moral support to the man they had guided to the Scottish Government’s most controversial ever decision.

MacAskill, wearing a red and blue diagonal-striped tie on a plain black suit and white shirt, took a drink of water from a glass before beginning his speech.

But it took just a few words for his mouth to become audibly dry again, while his speech itself seemed to have a bizarre echo-effect as it boomed out across the tannoy.

Undoubtedly well-briefed on his manner and appearance, the Justice Secretary was careful to tilt his head to the side and gaze through the world’s television cameras when speaking of the “pain and suffering” of the Lockerbie disaster’s victims and their families.

He spoke slowly for the notetakers and, perhaps recognising that the massive US television audience who would be waking up to news of his decision may otherwise have struggled with his thick, Scots accent.

While his manner was well rehearsed, his composure did break a number of times as he made grammatical errors reading some of the most important parts of his statement.

Beads of sweat quickly combined to create a gleaming liquid layer on his face shortly into his statement.

He got the Libyan bomber’s name wrong just three minutes into his monumental speech, wrongly calling him Ali-Megrahi.

He also stumbled on his final, most important sentence, saying Al-Megrahi will “be released on compassionate grounds and return, allowed to return, to Libya to die.”

And just when he thought he was over the final hurdle, MacAskill turned to leave the podium, only to spill his papers on the floor.

An unfortunate gaffe pounced upon by the world’s photographers on this, the very day, that the whole world was watching.

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