The survival of the Lockerbie bomber seven months since his release from prison on compassionate grounds after being given only three months to live may be due to his return home to his family, the father of one of his victims says.
Jim Swire, a retired GP whose daughter Flora died in the 1988 attack, has defended the decision by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi – who has terminal prostate cancer – from prison in Scotland last August.
Megrahi's release and subsequent return to Libya provoked a crisis in relations between Britain and the US. He had been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in 2001 of murdering 270 people by blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie 13 years earlier.
Responding to allegations that, as Megrahi, 57, has now survived seven months, his illness was fabricated or exaggerated for political motives and that the doctors advising the Justice Secretary had in some way been "bought", Dr Swire writes in the British Medical Journal that this ignores the medical reality of cancer.
"Two major changes have taken place since [his release]. Firstly, Mr Megrahi has been returned to his own country and is with his own loving family. We know that a major reduction in stress will sometimes induce a major remission, even in terrible progressive illness such as his.
"Secondly, he has undergone a course of treatment in Tripoli with one of the taxol series of drugs, together with palliative radiotherapy. These can be associated with remissions of many months. Presumably they had not been given in Scotland for some reason."
Dr Swire, who met Megrahi in prison, led the relatives' campaign for the perpetrators of the bombing to be brought to justice for more than a decade. But he had serious doubts about whether Megrahi, who has always protested his innocence, was genuinely involved and has pointed to a number of weaknesses in the case against him.
Megrahi lost his first appeal in 2002 but was due to have a second appeal heard when he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer which had spread to his bones. By August 2009, he was gravely ill and the consensus of two Scottish consultants and a professor of oncology accompanied by two English consultants was that his likely prognosis was about three months. Dr Swire writes: "My own medical knowledge of the case is confined to meeting Mr Megrahi in prison and observing his physical decline and is without any professional involvement, except for discussion with the oncologist. Nevertheless, I wish to support the advice that my distinguished medical colleagues gave to Mr MacAskill. Readers will be able to confirm that the two major changes in Mr Megrahi's circumstances might well explain the dramatic and welcome improvement in his condition."
He concludes: "When I last met this quiet and dignified Muslim in his Greenock cell he had prepared a Christmas card for me. On it he had written: 'To Doctor Swire and family, please pray for me and my family.' It is a treasured possession by which I shall always remember him. Even out of such death and destruction comes a message of hope and reconciliation for Easter."