- Associated Press - Sunday, August 15, 2010

LONDON (AP) — The regrets of a cancer expert who assessed the only man ever convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie jetliner bombing have intensified the anger felt by victims’ relatives over Scotland’s decision to release the Libyan on compassionate grounds.

Dr. Karol Sikora and other experts said Abdel Baset al-Megrahi probably had only three months to live when he was freed from a Scottish jail last August and allowed to return home to Libya. But one year later, al-Megrahi, who is being treated for prostate cancer, is still alive.

Dr. Sikora, one of three experts who assessed al-Megrahi’s health for Libyan authorities, was quoted by Britain’s Observer newspaper Sunday as saying he should have been more cautious about the chances of survival.

“If I could go back in time, I would have probably been more vague and tried to emphasize the statistical chances and not hard fact,” Mr. Sikora was quoted as saying.

“In medicine we say, ‘Never say never, and never say always,’ because funny things happen. All you can do is give a statistical opinion,” said Dr. Sikora, dean of the School of Medicine at Buckingham University in central England.

Scottish authorities deny that the opinions of Dr. Sikora and the other experts who advised Libya entered into the decision to release al-Megrahi, though families contend that the advice must have played a role.

“It’s obvious the whole thing was flawed,” said Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, an advocacy group that represents some of the families of those killed.

Mr. Duggan said Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill rejected a U.S. government request to commission an independent medical examination of al-Megrahi and also has declined demands from families to publish in full the advice Scotland received from consultants.

“The Scottish government should be embarrassed, and the U.K. government should be embarrassed,” said Mr. Duggan, a retired lawyer from Rehoboth Beach, Del., who advises some bereaved families. “It’s no surprise to us that these doubts are coming out.”

Al-Megrahi is the only person to have been jailed for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. The explosion and resulting plane crash killed 259 people — mostly Americans — onboard and 11 on the ground.

He was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to serve at least 27 years in a Scottish prison, but he was released in August 2009 on compassionate grounds.

A report made public by Scottish authorities showed the Scottish Prison Service’s medical chief, Andrew Fraser, was advised by four specialists at the time of al-Megrahi’s release. The report described the three-month prognosis for al-Megrahi as “reasonable” but confirmed that none of those consulted ruled out that al-Megrahi might live longer.

Dr. Sikora said he was not taking responsibility for al-Megrahi’s release. “No one asked me, ‘Should we let him out?’ All they said was, ‘When do you think he will die?’” he was quoted as saying.

The Rev. John Mosey of Worcestershire, England, whose daughter Helga, 19, died in the bombing, said it was wrong to criticize those who had assessed al-Megrahi.

“The doctors in the case have been dragged through the mud, when really it is very difficult to assess how long someone will survive,” he said. “It was a difficult decision to make, and was made in good faith.”

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