South Scotland

Lockerbie bomber Megrahi's survival attributed to pills

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Media captionMegrahi was recently seen on Libyan television attending a gathering in Tripoli

A leading cancer specialist has said it is likely that the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is being kept alive by pills not available in the UK.

Prof Roger Kirby said a new hormone-based therapy may explain why he is alive two years after he was given three months to live.

He also said his release from prison was based on flawed medical advice.

First Minister Alex Salmond said he did not regret his government's decision to free Megrahi.

As the second anniversary of the convicted bomber's return to Libya approached, Mr Salmond told BBC Scotland he was not embarrassed that Megrahi had outlived the three months prognosis.

He said the decision to release the bomber was based on the best information available.

"When Kenny MacAskill made the announcement two years ago he made it quite clear that the three month thing could never be definitive, and was never incidentally meant to be definitive," he said.

"But I don't think we should get ourselves into the mentality that we should want to see somebody's death accelerated, whoever they may be, for some sort of political convenience.

"We made a decision in good faith, in the interests of Scots justice, and we stand by that decision."

Living longer

Megrahi, who had been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, was freed from Greenock Prison on 20 August 2009.

He had been jailed in 2001 for the atrocity which claimed 270 lives in 1988.

Prof Kirby, of The Prostate Centre in London, said he believed the Lockerbie bomber was "almost certainly" being kept alive by a drug called abiraterone.

The hormone-based therapy has been passed for use in the US, but is not yet available to patients in Britain.

Prof Kirby told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "They said he was incurable, write him off, he's only got three months to live. That was their genuine belief, the doctors who advised [Justice Secretary] Kenny MacAskill and the Scottish government.

"Unfortunately I don't think they were aware of these new treatments - such as abiraterone, which is transforming the prospects for patients with advanced prostate cancer. They just are living longer and longer."

Prof Kirby said it was foolhardy to put a three-month prognosis on Megrahi's survival because advances in cancer treatment could keep him alive for some time yet - possibly several more years.

He said: "It's unknown how long this man will live and with extra additional new treatments it could have been predicted that he might be alive... 24 months after his release - and I could be on this programme next year, 36 months, and he's still alive."

The Scottish government said its decision to release Megrahi was based on medical advice from Dr Andrew Fraser, the director of health and care of the Scottish Prison Service.

They described him as a professional of impeccable integrity.

Victims' pain

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray asked the government to apologise over the release.

He said: "Every anniversary, every milestone and every sighting of al-Megrahi, for example at these rallies in support of Gaddafi, just reminds us that this decision was wrong and how wrong it was.

"The worst thing is that every time it happens it must just increase the pain that the relatives of the victims feel knowing that justice hasn't been done."

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman John Lamont called for more details of the medical advice to be released.

He said: "Alex Salmond's government claims that all the evidence has been published. But the Medical Officer's report to Mr MacAskill says 'we attach relevant medical reports". Where are these reports?"

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