The Lockerbie bomber could survive for 10 years or longer, according to an embarrassed cancer specialist who only last year said he would be dead within three months of his release, a newspaper reported on Sunday.
Professor Karol Sikora, who assessed Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi for the Libyan authorities almost a year ago, told The Sunday Times it was "embarrassing" that he had outlived his three-month prognosis.
The Scottish government provoked outrage from the United States when it released Megrahi from prison in August 2009 on compassionate grounds because he is suffering from terminal cancer. (...)
But the newspaper claimed that Sikora, the dean of medicine at Buckingham University in southern England, was the only expert the Libyan authorities could find who would agree to put the three-month estimate on Megrahi's life.
It reported that the advice of two other experts was ignored after they said Megrahi could live for 19 months.
Sikora said: "There was always a chance he could live for 10 years, 20 years... But it's very unusual."
The professor told The Sunday Times that the Libyan authorities made it clear to him that if he concluded Megrahi would die in a matter of months, it would greatly improve Megrahi's chances of being released from jail in Scotland.
"It was clear that three months was what they were aiming for. Three months was the critical point," Sikora said.
"On the balance of probabilities, I felt I could sort of justify (that)."
He denied he came any under pressure, but admitted: "It is embarrassing that he's gone on for so long."
"There was a 50 percent chance that he would die in three months, but there was also a 50 percent chance that he would live longer."
[From an Agence France Presse news agency report published earlier today.
There is also a related report on the BBC News website, a longer report on the Telegraph website and an even longer report on the Daily Mail website.
All of the above reports are based upon an article in The Sunday Times. Because that newspaper's website is now subscription only, and I decline to make any contribution -- however small -- to the coffers of Rupert Murdoch's News International, I was unable to quote from or refer to the original source. However, Frank Duggan, President of the US relatives' group Victims of Pan Am 103 Inc, has sent me the text of the article and I reproduce it below.]
Few people had heard of Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice secretary, before he stepped in front of the world's television cameras to announce the fate of the Lockerbie bomber. Yet by the time he had ended his rambling statement, in which he granted Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi his freedom and sought to burnish Scotland's humanitarian credentials, he found himself in the eye of a diplomatic storm.
More than 10 months after returning to Tripoli to a hero's welcome, Megrahi is still alive.
Saif Gadaffi, the son of the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, says Megrahi is "very sick" with advanced prostate cancer — but he has far outlived the three-month prognosis accorded to him by the Scottish government that secured his release on compassionate grounds.
Despite assurances from MacAskill that Megrahi, 58, was close to death in August last year, only one British doctor contacted as part of a Sunday Times investigation would admit to having endorsed the three-month prediction.
In fact, the "firm consensus" among medical experts of which MacAskill spoke does not appear to exist.
Approaches to eight key people involved in Megrahi's case now suggest that both the Scottish government and the Libyan authorities selectively chose their information.
The disclosure threatens to reignite the anger that met Megrahi's release. Speculation has been rife that he was allowed to go free — despite being convicted in 2001 of murdering 270 people — as part of an Anglo-Libyan trade deal.
Last year The Sunday Times revealed that Jack Straw, the former justice secretary at Westminster, had written to his Scottish counterpart to say it was "in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom" to make Megrahi eligible for return to Libya.
The letter was written in December 2007 when negotiations with Libya had stalled over a BP oil exploration contract worth up to £15 billion. Announcing Megrahi's release, MacAskill said that "life expectancy of less than three months" could make a prisoner eligible to be freed on compassionate grounds.
The Libyan authorities seemed determined to find a doctor who would provide the three-month prognosis. Early efforts at the start of last year proved unsuccessful. Dr Stephen Harland, a consultant oncologist at University College London hospital, and David Dearnaley, professor of uro-oncology at the Royal Marsden hospital in London, both told the Libyans that Megrahi's lifespan was closer to 19 months. Libya's ambassador to London subsequently turned to Professor Karol Sikora, medical director of CancerPartners UK and dean of the medical school at Buckingham University.
Sikora, who was paid £200 an hour for his services, said: "It was clear that three months was what they were aiming for. Three months was the critical point. On the balance of probabilities, I felt I could sort of justify [that]."
Sikora now admits there was always a chance that Megrahi could live for much longer — possibly 10 or even 20 years. It is understood that he did not mention this in his report for the Libyans. "It is embarrassing that he's gone on for so long," Sikora said.
Last week he denied he had been put under pressure, but indicated he may have been looking for "really bad news". Sikora said he had seen other patients with the same symptoms as Megrahi who had lived for five years: "There was a 50% chance that he would die in three months, but there was also a 50% chance that he would live longer."
When Scotland's chief medical officer sought advice from Dr Grahame Howard, a consultant at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre, Howard refused to commit to a specific timeframe.
"I don't think any oncologist would use a number in that way because the science isn't perfect," said Howard.
"I assessed his likely prognosis to be maybe many months. It's an odd disease and many months can spread to years." A source said: "It wasn't clinical judgment to release him, it was made at a political level."
Sikora now wonders if he was even provided with the correct medical records. When he visited Megrahi at Greenock prison on July 28 last year, he was accompanied by another British expert, Professor Jonathan Waxman, an oncologist from Hammersmith hospital in London, and a hormone specialist from Tripoli.
Waxman refused to concur with Sikora's three-month prognosis or even to put a timeframe on Megrahi's chances of survival. He has told friends he is not "surprised at all" that Megrahi is still alive.
The trio's findings were sent to the Scottish government on August 14, six days before MacAskill announced his decision to release Megrahi. His aides say he based his conclusions on a report by Dr Andrew Fraser, director of health and care at the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). This, it was claimed, drew on the expertise of those involved in Megrahi's care. But It is understood that the two doctors closest to Megrahi — Dr Zak Latif, his urologist, and Dr Richard Jones, his oncologist — were not asked for their advice.
A source said: "You can read into that what you want." Both doctors refused to comment.
[All of the above should be compared with this report from The Sunday Post.]