LONDON - Gordon Brown condemned the reception given to the Lockerbie bomber on his return to Libya - but failed to satisfy critics by refusing to comment on the decision to release Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.

Finally breaking his five-day silence since Megrahi was freed on compassionate grounds, the Prime Minister felt "repulsed" by the ceremony which greeted Megrahi in Tripoli. But he sidestepped questions about whether he agreed with the decision of the Scottish National Party Administration in Edinburgh to free Megrahi because he has terminal cancer.

"I was both angry and I was repulsed by the reception that a convicted bomber guilty of a huge terrorist crime received on his return to Libya. When I met Colonel Gaddafi [the Libyan leader] over the summer, I made it absolutely clear to him that we had no role in making the decision about Megrahi's future.

"Because it was a matter legislated for by the Scottish Parliament and not by us, it was a matter over which we could not interfere and had no control over the final outcome."

Opposition parties condemned Mr Brown for dodging questions over whether Megrahi's release was right.

Ed Davey, foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "As long as Gordon Brown remains silent on this issue, people will suspect he has something to hide. It is hard to see why he can't tell us what he thinks of the decision to release a man who has been convicted of the worst terrorist attack in British history."

Brown aides denied he was playing politics and insisted passing judgment on the decision would only imply that the British Government had a role in it.

However, the suspicion at Westminster is that he is refusing to give his view to avoid upsetting the US or Libya - and is hoping the Scottish National Party will instead pay a political price. There were further claims that the British Government did indeed play a part in the process leading to Megrahi's release.

The Scottish Government said: "The only obstacle to publishing material has come from the UK Labour Government, who previously failed to grant permission to publish their communications to us regarding the prisoner-transfer agreement."

- INDEPENDENT