THE crucial medical advice that concluded the Lockerbie bomber had less than three months to live was given by a prison doctor and not a cancer specialist, The Scotsman can reveal.
Following mounting questions about how justice secretary Kenny MacAskill arrived at his decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, a Scottish Government source admitted that the key advice was given by an ordinary GP who works as the Scottish Prison Service's primary care physician.
The details emerged after The Scotsman reported that none of the four prostate cancer specialists who were consulted "would be willing to say" whether Megrahi had less than three months to live.
It now appears that Mr MacAskill disregarded the advice of the four experts in favour of a single GP with little experience of prostate cancer.
The three-month figure is crucial, as Scots law says that a terminally ill prisoner must have less than this time to live to be eligible for compassionate release.
Labour's health spokesman, Dr Richard Simpson, a former associate member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons and member of its prostate cancer working group, had already raised doubts about the three-month prognosis earlier in the week.
Last night he said: "The Scottish Government has misrepresented the medical evidence. The justice secretary chose to disregard the advice of four specialists and release Megrahi on the opinion of one doctor, who we now know was not a specialist.
"At the very least, Kenny MacAskill should have sought a second opinion confirming the patient's prognosis from a specialist in palliative care. That he did not do so showed a disregard for due process and the significance of the decision."
However, a Scottish Government spokesman said that the medical advice "was not based on the opinion of one man", but a range of views. The new evidence came on a day it was claimed that Mr MacAskill's report into why he sanctioned Megrahi's release to Libya was "rapidly turning into a dodgy dossier".
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott said that Mr MacAskill should now publish all relevant documents to prove that his decision to send home the only man convicted of murdering 270 people when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie was based on sound advice.
The Scottish Government also had to rebut claims that its officials had "bullied" Strathclyde Police into changing comments to the press allegedly criticising Mr MacAskill's statement to parliament. It has been claimed that the force was initially angry at suggestions that it was not able to provide the 48 officers required. And UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw also made it clear that he had not advised Mr MacAskill to personally visit Megrahi.
Mr MacAskill had claimed that it was Mr Straw's evidence to a select committee which had given him no choice but to take evidence in a personal meeting with the bomber once Megrahi had requested a meeting. But yesterday Mr Straw said: "I said in a letter to Alex Salmond that the prisoner would have a right to make written representations which, for sure, is true."
Separately, a poll by Angus Reid strategies found that 79 per cent of people in the UK disagreed with the decision to release Megrahi and 73 per cent of Scots.
• US politicians last night joined an angry chorus of opposition to Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's expected visit to New Jersey, where 38 victims of the bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie lived before their deaths.
Governor Jon Corzine and others protested anticipated plans by Mr Gaddafi to stay in the northern New Jersey community of Englewood when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly next month.
Democrats US Senator Robert Menendez said he should be "barred" from New Jersey.
MacAskill's 'dodgy dossier'
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said the prognosis that Megrahi had just three months to live was based on a range of views and specialists.
Yet the summary by prison service chief medical officer Andrew Fraser said that specialists were unwilling to state this and it appears only one non-specialist doctor supported this view.
It also noted that clinicians commented on Megrahi's "relative lack of symptoms" from his prostate cancer.
Prisoner transfer agreement
Mr MacAskill said the UK government failed to give evidence on the PTA. His decision was based on the understanding of the US government and relatives that this would break the agreement over Megrahi serving his sentence in Scotland.
But the UK government has said it provided everything asked for and PTA could not happen because there was an outstanding appeal by the Crown over the length of Megrahi's sentence.
Mr MacAskill said that Scots were well known for their compassion and mercy. The suggestion was that Scots have these qualities more than other nations. However, the angry crowd outside Greenock – and polling – suggests that was not true as far as freeing the man convicted of the worst terrorist atrocity in British history was concerned.
Keeping Megrahi in Scotland
Mr MacAskill said that Strathclyde Police had informed him 48 officers would be needed to guard Megrahi's house in Newton Mearns. Mr MacAskill said the resources required would be too great. However, a row has broken out over whether he asked Strathclyde Police if the force could handle the security implications.
Visiting Megrahi in jail
The most controversial part of the build-up to the decision was Mr MacAskill's personal visit to Megrahi in Greenock Prison.
He said this was based on evidence given by UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw. Mr Straw has subsequently said he advised the Scottish Government that a written submission would suffice. Mr MacAskill has since changed his reason to being a question of "natural justice".
Further to our article of 27 August (Ordinary prison GP – not cancer expert – told MacAskill bomber had three months to live) we would like to point out that Scots law does not state that a terminally ill prisoner must have less than three months to live to be eligible for compassionate relief, as reported. While three months is referred to as the crucial point in guidelines, a prisoner can be released on licence at any time if the Secretary of State is satisfied that there are compassionate grounds to justify it.