'Megrahi near death' claims are just unfounded rumours - Scots officials

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THE health of the Lockerbie bomber has "deteriorated signficantly" in recent days, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi said last night.

• Megrahi has been in Libya since his release on compassionate grounds 16 months ago. Picture: AP

"Every day is expected to be his last," a source close to the family of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is said to have told reporters, amid reports he had fallen into a coma.

But that prompted Scottish officials at East Renfrewshire Council - which monitors the terms of Megrahi's licence - to issue a statement yesterday morning saying claims the bomber was on the verge of death were "unfounded rumours".

It is understood that council officials spoke to Megrahi in recent days. Officials at the local authority were also adamant yesterday that he remained fully conscious.

A spokesman added: "We continue to be in contact with Mr Megrahi regularly and whenever we need to be for the purposes of supervision."

The conflicting accounts come with renewed attention focusing on the bomber following the publication of United States embassy cables which, among other revelations, have claimed that the Scottish and UK governments were "threatened" by the Libyans to release Megrahi.

First Minister Alex Salmond and former UK justice secretary Jack Straw have both denied the claims.

Megrahi is still living at his home in Tripoli, 16 months after he was released on compassionate grounds, having developed prostate cancer.

At the time, justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said he was likely to live for only another three months and that, as such, he was deserving of early release.There have been conflicting accounts of his health ever since. In October last year, there were reports in the UK that he had died. That was followed by speculation from doctors who had examined him that could even live another ten years.

Megrahi is currently being monitored by East Renfrewshire Council because his family lived within the authority boundaries when he was a prisoner in Greenock jail. Under the terms of his release in August 2009, the convicted bomber must speak by video-link to a criminal justice social worker at the council on a regular basis, and must also provide details of his health.

While it is not known whether the council has spoken to Megrahi in the past 24 hours, officials were unusually blunt yesterday in rebutting the claims, suggesting communications had taken place in the past few hours.

Their comments were at odds with the sombre tone coming from Libya. One source close to the family was reported to have said: "He is on life-support and has been for some days. Many people have been waiting for him to die. That day is coming very soon.Every day, his loved ones expect it to be his last."

Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed in the atrocity and who has insisted Megrahi is innocent, added: "My first guess would be that his survival is likely to be a matter of days - at the most a week or two."

The Libyan remains the only person convicted of Britain's worst terrorist atrocity, when Pan Am 103 was blown up above Lockerbie in December 1988, killing 270 people.

The new US documents, published by WikiLeaks, declared UK government fears that Libya would take "harsh and immediate action" against British interests if the bomber died in prison.

The document also claim to show that it was Mr Salmond, not Mr MacAskill, who made the final decision to release Megrahi. In one cable from 2008, US diplomat Richard LeBaron reportedly wrote: "Alex Salmond told Jack Straw he will make the final decision in this case."

The claims have been dismissed as "tittle-tattle" by the Scottish Government.