UK Doctor who advised on Lockerbie bomber's release says experts agreed his prognosis was poor

LONDON (AP) — A cancer specialist who advised Scotland's government over the release of the Lockerbie bomber on Thursday defended the assessment of medical experts that the prisoner had only three months to live.

Consultant oncologist Grahame Howard was one of four advisers to the Scottish Prison Service on the health of Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, who is suffering from prostate cancer but still alive a year after he was freed. Before his release, doctors assessed he would likely live only for three months.

Al-Megrahi was the only person convicted in connection with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 259 people onboard — mostly Americans — and 11 on the ground.

He was ordered in 2001 to serve 27 years in jail, but he was freed on Aug. 20 of last year on compassionate grounds, due to his ill health.

Scotland's prison service said Howard was the first consultant to publicly confirm his involvement in case. It declined to supply the identities of the three other consultants.

"As an external adviser I was involved in discussions leading up to the point where Mr. al-Megrahi was considered for release on medical grounds," Howard said in a statement issued by the prison service.

A report compiled by the prison service medical chief Andrew Fraser for Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill following consultation with Howard and others concluded al-Megrahi's condition was deteriorating.

"A three month prognosis is now a reasonable estimate for this patient," the report said. However, it also noted that that predictions of a patient's remaining time are notoriously difficult to make.

Campaigners and relatives of those who died have expressed concerns over the advice given to Scottish authorities, particularly as al-Megrahi continues to live 12 months after he was freed.

Four Democratic U.S. senators — Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey — have called on Scotland's government to release all medical records they hold on al-Megrahi. Scottish authorities have refused, citing patient confidentiality.

Responding to the criticisms, Howard said in his statement the medical report was "a fair reflection of the specialist advice available at the time."

Scotland's government said Thursday that MacAskill would be prepared to meet with U.S. senators regarding the case if they go through with a plan to visit the U.K.

"His door is always open and he's happy to meet them," a spokesman for the Scottish government said, on condition of anonymity in line with policy. "No formal request for a meeting has been made."

MacAskill and other British officials previously have refused to attend a planned Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on al-Megrahi's release. Senators have suggested they may consider visiting Scotland to hold discussions with officials.