JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill has emphatically denied he urged the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing to drop his appeal against conviction to smooth the way for his release.

Mr MacAskill, who came under pressure to make a parliamentary statement after the publication of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi's biography, told MSPs that claims made in the book were "wrong".

He said it was clear from the book Megrahi signed a provisional undertaking to abandon his appeal several months before he applied to be released under a Prisoner Transfer Agreement or on compassionate grounds.

And he said the book's author, John Ashton, had publicly admitted that claims made in the book were "hearsay".

The controversy centres on a claim by Megrahi that Mr MacAskill held a "private" talk with Libyan foreign minister Abdulati al Obeidi at Greenock Prison in which "he gave him to understand that it would be easier to grant compassionate release if I dropped my appeal".

Mr MacAskill told parliament: "At no time did I or any other member of the Scottish Government suggest to Mr al Obeidi, to anyone connected with the Libyan Government, or indeed to Mr al Megrahi himself that abandoning his appeal against conviction would in any way aid or affect his application for compassionate release.

"The Scottish Government had no interest whatsoever in Mr al Megrahi's appeal being abandoned."

He rejected a claim by Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald his talks with Megrahi and Mr al Obeidi "did indeed leave both men with the very clear impression that withdrawing the appeal was the prudent thing to do".

Mr MacAskill also rebutted an assertion by Mr Ashton the Scottish Government did not want the publication of the Statement of Reasons for Megrahi abandoning his appeal.

He said "nothing could be further from the truth" and that was why law was being brought in to enable the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to disclose information in cases it has investigated where an appeal has been abandoned.

Mr MacAskill sent a letter to UK Justice Secretary Ken Clarke highlighting an article in yesterday's Herald which he said "reportedly quotes directly from the Statement of Reasons".

He wants an exception to be made to data protection restrictions to allow the Commission to be able to release information.

Tory justice spokesman David McLetchie said Megrahi had now "enjoyed 923 days of freedom, courtesy of the SNP".

"If Kenny MacAskill wants to prove that releasing Britain's worst mass murderer was the right call he should release all the medical evidence on which it is based," he added.

LibDem Alison McInnes MSP said Mr MacAskill's visit to Megrahi in jail left the door open as to whether due process was followed.

Mr MacAskill said there is a mechanism for an appeal still to be heard, even posthumously.