NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Piper Alpha disaster: Tribute paid after death of trauma specialist

Prof David Alexander Image copyright Hostage International
Image caption Prof David Alexander was regarded as an expert in his field

Tributes have been paid to a trauma expert who studied the psychological effects of the Piper Alpha tragedy.

Prof David Alexander, who was director of the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research at Robert Gordon University (RGU), died at the age of 76.

A total of 167 men died when explosions ripped through the Piper Alpha in 1988.

Prof Alexander found the majority of survivors interviewed reported symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Piper Alpha exploded on 6 July 1988

However he also found that many felt stronger as they had learned things about themselves.

The trauma specialist received a humanitarian award from the Scottish government for his work after the Pakistan earthquake in 2005, and taught hostage negotiation at the Scottish Police College.

'Exceptional insight'

Prof Alexander was also involved with the organisation Hostage International, which said his "exceptional insight" into the impact of kidnapping on hostages and their families grew throughout his life.

Hostage International said Prof Alexander was unafraid to voice his strong opinions, quoting him as saying: "I refuse to get splinters in my bottom by sitting on the fence."

Terry Waite - who was taken hostage in 1987 in Beirut before being released five years later - is president of Hostage International, and said Prof Alexander was "unstinting in giving his time freely to support people who were in considerable distress".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Terry Waite was taken hostage just days after this photo was taken after he went to Lebanon to negotiate the release of John McCarthy and other western captives

Mr Waite said: "His care was not based on sentiment but on a detailed knowledge of his subject applied with compassion and empathy."

Prof Paul Hagan, Vice Principal for Research and Deputy Principal at RGU, said Prof Alexander had a "long and distinguished career".

'Leading figure'

He said: "David was recognised as a leading figure in the clinical psychology profession both in the UK and internationally.

"David was often appointed by the Scottish and UK governments to advise them on a range of topics from maintaining high level-preparedness for and resilience to major incidents including suspected pandemics and terrorist activities to the risk assessment of those convicted of terrorist offences.

"His contribution and level of commitment to these fields of practice were immense but he was perhaps best known for his work in leading the psychiatric team after the Piper Alpha disaster."

Police Scotland Asst Ch Con Mark Williams said: "David supported policing in Scotland for more than 20 years and was well-known to many officers across the country from his work in relation to armed policing, negotiators and family liaison.

"He will be sadly missed."

And leading forensic scientist Prof Dame Sue Black said the world was "less bright" as a result of Prof Alexander's death.

Prof Alexander died at home after a short illness, and the funeral service will be at Baldarroch Crematorium in Crathes on 20 January.

Relatives have asked that any donations be made to charities supporting the mental health of military personnel.

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