Scots academic held captive in Beirut for 6 years dies aged 85

Thomas Sutherland celebrates his release after being abducted and held for more than six years by militants in Lebanon. Picture: AP

Thomas Sutherland celebrates his release after being abducted and held for more than six years by militants in Lebanon. Picture: AP

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A ­Scottish academic who was held ­captive in ­Lebanon for more than six years until he was freed in 1991 has died aged 85.

Falkirk-born Thomas Sutherland was abducted by eight Hezbollah gunmen in June 1985 from the American University of Beirut where he was dean of agriculture.

He was released on 18 November 1991, at the same time as Terry Waite, an envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, after having spent 2,353 days in captivity.

Mr Sutherland recited Robert Burns poems to help survive the ordeal and to keep up the morale of fellow hostages.

In his memoirs At Your Own Risk, co-authored by his wife Jean, he claims to have made a number of suicide attempts and to have spent a long time in solitary confinement.

President George Bush senior, in the introduction to the book, said: “Sutherland inspired us all with his grit and unfailing faith in God and his country.”

A lawsuit Mr Sutherland and other hostages took out against Iran for its role in supporting Hezbollah stated that he was “physically abused by his captors, who on one occasion subjected him to a most severe beating with a rubber truncheon, first on the soles of his feet and thereafter over his entire body until he was black and blue everywhere”.

As a 17-year-old, Mr Sutherland was signed by Rangers. He gained a BSc in agriculture from the University of Glasgow before moving to the US in the 1950s.

He moved to Beirut in 1983, remaining at the university despite warnings by the State Department to leave due to earlier abductions.

Shortly after his release, Mr Sutherland had his first meal as a free man – mince and ­tatties. He also joked to the New York Times that fellow hostage Mr Waite was “a great, great guy – even though his snoring was unbearable”.

About a decade after his release Mr Sutherland and his family received a multi-million dollar award from a lawsuit brought by several hostages against Iran for its involvement.

The family set up the Sutherland Family Foundation helping causes such as food banks and community radio.

In 2003, aged 72, Mr Sutherland took up acting in Athol Fugard’s play A Lesson From Aloes, which explored how apartheid affected the friendships of black and white friends in South Africa.

Sutherland, who died in Fort Collins, Colorado, said performing was his way of repaying poets such as Burns, whose works gave him the strength to survive captivity.

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