AN inquiry has been demanded by MPs into why a Scottish drug smuggler was released after serving only a third of his 15-year jail sentence.

His early release may be connected with his transfer from a Scottish prison to Mount Prison in Hemel Hempstead.

Noel Hawkins, 26, from Ullapool, is working for a London computer firm only five years after Scotland's most senior judge and his two colleagues rejected appeals by him and other cocaine gang members that their sentences at the High Court in Edinburgh in 1991 were too harsh.

Lord Hope, the Lord Justice General, said when passing sentence that anyone convicted of drug smuggling could expect to go to prison for a very long period.

He added: ``What happened in this case should be seen as a clear warning to all those who may be tempted to use remote areas of this country as a landing place for drugs or to contribute skills and knowledge to this activity. The evil involved in this unprecedented crime requires severe punishment.''

English diver Chris Howarth, 39, was sentenced to 25 years for his part in bringing #100m of cocaine ashore in a remote part of Sutherland from a Spanish ship. Hawkins and Robert Burns, 39, also from Ullapool, got 15 years each.

The drugs bust, Britain's largest at the time, was codenamed by police as Operation Klondiker.

Despite Lord Hope's hard line, Hawkins was released a few weeks ago and Burns, who was also transferred from Scotland to the Mount Prison, is expected to be freed on parole soon.

Labour MP Willie McKelvey, who chaired a select committee on drugs, said yesterday: ``If prisoners can reduce their sentences by transferring to England then it must be examined.

``If this is some kind of loophole then it must be plugged. I will write to the Scottish Secretary to ask how this has happened.''

Lib Dem MP Charles Kennedy, whose constituency includes Ullapool, said: ``I'm surprised the prison system was able to override the judge's ruling. I will be contacting the Lord Advocate.''

Hawkins's release was confirmed yesterday by his mother, Mrs Margaret Matheson, at her home in St Valery Place, Ullapool. She said: ``He made a mistake and deserved to be punished. But the family are delighted he is out on parole.

``Under the terms of his parole he is not allowed to return and live here but can come home on visits. He hasn't been home yet as he is busy settling into his new job.

``I'm not sorry he is down in London as there is more of a career future there for him. He has always been interested in computers from the time he was at school and continued to study them while in prison.''

Mrs Karen Burns, wife of Robert Burns, said: ``Robert put in for his parole in January before Noel but at the time he had not done his rehabilitation course so that has set things back a bit. But we are optimistic he will be out soon.''