Lucy Adams and Chris Watt Then man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing is expected to be released next week on compassionate grounds - nearly eight-and-a-half years after he was jailed for life for the murders of 270 people in the atrocity over Scotland.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, who is in the terminal stages of prostate cancer, is expected to return home to Tripoli before the start of Ramadan on August 21. His return will also coincide with the 40th anniversary of the coming to power of Libya's leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The Herald understands a final decision on Megrahi will be made and announced by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill next week.

The Scottish Government has strongly denied allegations that the prisoner and the recent Libyan delegation were given any suggestion that he should drop his appeal in order to win the right to return home. The decision will be based on Megrahi's deteriorating health and medical assessments.

However, he is expected to drop the appeal which began in April of this year.

Mr MacAskill, who will be responsible for making the decision, is currently in the Orkney islands with work.

Originally it was thought that Megrahi would return home under a recent Prisoner Transfer Agreement signed with Libya. The Justice Secretary consulted with relatives of victims, Megrahi himself and the US State Attorney on this decision.

Prisoner transfer is thought to have been rejected as an option because it would be subject to judicial review and could lead to interminable delays. There is concern that Megrahi, who is serving a 27-year sentence in HMP Greenock, could die before the end of such a review and before the end of the current appeal.

The move brings to an end months of speculation over the former Libyan agent's fate, and it comes after Mr MacAskill paid a controversial visit to Megrahi in prison. Megrahi was convicted for the murder of 270 people when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in 1988, killing all of those on board the air craft and many more when it crashed into houses on the town.

Upon his conviction for the atrocity, the worst terror attack in UK history, Megrahi was sentenced to a minimum of 27 years behind bars. In recent years, however, campaigners have questioned the evidence on which the Libyan was convicted, and some have called for his release.

Martin Cadman, whose son lost his life in the Lockerbie bombing, last night welcomed news of Megrahi's imminent release.

"I've been waiting for it for a long time," he said. "First of all they were saying that Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah were accused, then Fhimah was found not guilty, and they were accused of acting with others, and as far as I know the Scottish authorities and everyone else has done nothing try and find who these others are. The whole thing is really very unsatisfactory for relatives like myself."

David Ben Ari, who advised some of the UK families affected by the Lockerbie tragedy, said: "The majority of UK relatives have been extremely unhappy with the whole trial and the first appeal and what has been happening now. I was present the day of the verdicts and I was confused. So, I do not believe, and I will never believe, that this man was guilty of the crimes he was charged with.

"Of the American relatives, the vast majority are very quiet but a few very vocal ones have never accepted anything other than Megrahi's total guilt. Some of them, sadly, would like him to rot in prison for the rest of his days."

21 YEARS ON, A FRUSTRATING CLOSE FOR RELATIVES OF THE 270 VICTIMS History will be the judge if as expected Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, next week takes the decision to send the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing back to Libya on compassionate grounds.

The legal process which began almost 21 years ago will finally be over. Whether Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the man convicted of the atrocity, did or did not plant the bomb which exploded over Lockerbie may never be known.

For the relatives of those who died in the tragedy and all those touched by their stories, it provides the most frustrating and unfulfilling of endings.

For Megrahi, 57, who was last year diagnosed with prostate cancer, it offers the opportunity to see his mother for the first time in more than a decade and the hope, albeit, limited, that he will die in the country he grew up in.

For those seeking the truth, the creeping realisation that politics would take centreplace ahead of finding out what happened and whether the man in prison serving 27 years was really responsible, has now dawned.

Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the atrocity, and who has criticised as "inhumane" the decision to keep Megrahi in prison, alluded to "very worrying rumours" that Megrahi may have been persuaded to accept the concept of compassionate release in return for withdrawing his appeal.

"That would be a blow... to those who like me are seeking the truth because we would love to see the Scottish authorities get to grips with the old and new evidence in the current appeal and see whether the verdict can still be deemed safe. I don't believe that it would be."

Pamela Dix, from UK Families Flight 103, whose brother Peter was killed in the atrocity, said she was "baffled" by much of the evidence in the trial that led to Megrahi's conviction.

She said: "There has been a lack of justice for the 270 people who died on and below Flight 103."

Little has been allowed to get in the way of plans to return the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing back to his home country since the global political axis turned.

In 2004, Tony Blair put his personal seal of approval on Libya's return to international respectability by shaking hands with Colonel Gaddafi outside Tripoli.

The handshake came as Mr Blair's office announced that BP had signed a £450m oil contract off the Libyan coast and that BAE Systems was negotiating to sell civilian airliners to Tripoli.

Talks to establish a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) between Libya and the UK began in 2005, but the Foreign Office consistently denied that such discussions bear any relevance to Megrahi.

The agreement meant that any Libyan serving a sentence in the UK, who has no pending appeal, could be returned home.

Those in Scottish prisons could be moved only with the permission of Scottish ministers.

The so-called "deal in the desert" struck during former Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to Colonel Gaddaffi in 2007 set in motion the prisoner transfer agreement that could have allowed him to return to Tripoli before he dies. However, Mr MacAskill, on whose shoulders the decision has ultimately lay, could not have granted a transfer while Megrahi's appeal against his conviction went through the courts.

But appeals and transfers aside, in the end it seems Megrahi's release will come by another route, and a decision taken on compassionate grounds following the prisoner's diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Last night the official line was that no decision had been taken, a Scottish Government spokesman saying: "We can confirm that no decision has been made on applications under the prisoner transfer agreement or compassionate early release by Mr Al Megrahi. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is still considering all the representations in both cases and hopes to make a decision this month."

But expectations are that the man convicted of the worst terror attack in British history will be a free man within days.