FORMER British foreign secretary Robin Cook has died after collapsing while hiking in Scotland, the BBC has reported.
Mr Cook was taken to hospital in "serious condition" on overnight after he collapsed whilst hiking in his native Scotland, Sky News and BBC News 24 television reported. Cook, 59, was with a group near the summit of Ben Stack mountain in the Highlands when he collapsed, they said. He was taken to a hospital near Inverness by helicopter after a call to the coastguard.
Few further details were immediately available, but BBC News 24 quoted a senior Scottish political source as saying that Cook was "seriously ill". It also said that he was given cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Without naming Cook, an official of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency told AFP that a Sikorsky air-sea rescue helicopter was sent to Ben Stack to pick up "a collapsed walker".
The Northern Constabulary, the police force that covers the north of Scotland, said it would not release details until Cook's next of kin have been contacted.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, standing in for Prime Minister Tony Blair who departed Saturday for a holiday abroad, was to make a statement later Saturday evening, BBC News 24 said.
Cook, foreign secretary under Blair from 1997 to 2001, resigned from Blair's government -- in which he was House of Commons leader, in charge of the legislative agenda -- in March 2003 protest over the Iraq war.
Last weekend Blair's former Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam, 55, who resigned from parliament at the 2001 election, was admitted to a London hospital where she was reported to be in "critical but stable" condition.
It was unclear as to whether her illness was a recurrence of a brain tumour.
Ben Stack is a cone-shaped mountain, 721 metres (2,365 feet) high, next to Loch More in the north of the rugged Highlands, and would have been a natural destination for Cook, a keen country walker.
During his four years at the Foreign Office, Cook forged an "ethical" foreign policy for Britain, and supported NATO's intervention in Kosovo in 1999 to wrest the mainly ethnic Albanian province from Serbian repression.
But he chose to resign Blair's government two days before the US and British invasion that led to Saddam Hussein's downfall, telling parliament: "I cannot support a war without international agreement or domestic support."
He won re-election in his central Scotland constituency of Livingstone in the May general election that put Blair and Labour back in power for a third straight term.
No longer a cabinet minister, he was a prolific commentator in the press, and many political analysts expected him to make a comeback once Blair steps down to make way for Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.
Cook's former parliamentary private secretary Ken Purchase told Sky News that he had heard conflicting reports that his erstwhile boss had collapsed while out walking, or had been involved in an accident.
"Whatever it is, if Robin is ill in hospital, we all want to see him up and fit and back again when parliament assembles," likely in September when it returns to debate special anti-terrorist measures, Purchase said.
"When I last saw him, he looked very fit and well. His wife Gaynor has been keeping him fit and keeping the pounds off. I have no idea why he might be ill."
He described Cook as "without question one of the best parliamentary performers in the Commons at the present time and one of the leading thinkers in the whole Parliamentary Labour Party".