Obituary: Ian Michael Park CBE. lawyer and honorary sheriff

Ian Michael Scott Park CBE, lawyer was thrown into the spotlight during the Piper Alpha case. Picture: Contributed
Ian Michael Scott Park CBE, lawyer was thrown into the spotlight during the Piper Alpha case. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 7 April, 1938 in Aberdeen. Died: 25 May, 2016, in Aberdeen, aged 78.

Mike Park was a lawyer whose immense wealth of knowledge and unerring professionalism, combined with a permanent glint in his eye, made him a towering figure in his field and a genial host, commentator and adviser.

Though he spent his entire legal career at one firm, his reputation stretched far beyond its confines: he was also a sheriff, broadcaster and president of the Law Society of Scotland and had been thrown into the spotlight on the global stage when he represented Occidental Petroleum, operator of Piper Alpha. The North Sea platform exploded in a series of fireballs on a summer evening in 1988 and remains the world’s worst oil disaster, leaving 167 men dead.

He was a man in his prime then, personally and professionally, when that same year he was diagnosed with a progressive neurological condition. With typical sanguinity he later listed among his recreations Cheating Parkinson’s Disease.

Ian Michael Scott Park, also known as Michael, IMSP and Mike, was the son of Ian Park, a chemistry teacher and his wife Winnie, a receptionist in his grandfather’s business of Alexander Scott tailors. He attended Aberdeen Grammar School and went up to Aberdeen University to study Arts and Law in 1955.

Three years later he gained a three-year apprenticeship with prominent Aberdeen legal firm Paull and Williamsons, marking the start of a career that spanned the rest of his working life. Immediately appointed an assistant on completion of his apprenticeship, he became a partner in 1964 and on 20 June that year married Elizabeth Struthers, an assistant in the firm.

The couple had two sons, Sandy, who died aged 30 after living with severe disabilities, and William. After William’s birth his father found himself in hot water when, in legendary Aberdonian style, he tried to save some money when it came to registering the little boy’s arrival. But his prudence failed to impress his wife. When he returned to the hospital with the birth certificate she hit the roof: in the box for the father’s name it read “Unknown”. Apparently, at that time, it was cheaper to register a birth with the father unknown. Needless to say he was packed off back to the registrar’s to have the birth accurately recorded and the full fee paid.

Meanwhile, he had continued to progress in his career, becoming the firm’s senior court practitioner and gathering a wide breadth of legal knowledge which, on one occasion, involved a trip to a Mitchell and Muil baker’s for custard slices prior to a civil case. It transpired that the person raising the action had apparently slipped on a custard slice and the lawyer thought it would be beneficial for witnesses and the sheriff to be able refer to the said bakery confection in court. The outcome of the case is not known.

In addition to his day-to-day legal work he was also secretary of Aberdeen Granite Association for more than 20 years, became a temporary sheriff in 1976 and then an honorary sheriff from 1996. Other positions included chairmanship of the Aberdeen Citizens Advice Bureau for eight years and membership of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board from 1983-2000. He also served on the organisation’s appeals panel.

His tenure as president of the Law Society, from 1980-81, followed a period of unprecedented growth in the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen and he was involved in the first Fatal Accident Inquiries relating to the sector. He had been working for Occidental at the time of the Piper Alpha tragedy and subsequently attended most of Lord Cullen’s Public Inquiry into the disaster, an investigation which resulted in 106 recommendations and changes to the offshore safety regime.

Awarded the CBE in 1982, for services to the law of Scotland, he served as president of the Society of Advocates in Aberdeen in 1992-93. He was also regularly asked to comment on legal issues in the news and appeared for a number of years on Grampian Television’s What’s Your Problem slot on the news programme North Tonight. He also appeared on the station’s Cause for Concern programme, featured in a weekly slot during Damien McLeod’s mid-morning programme on Northsound Radio, and did Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Scotland.

He was passionate about his work and loved engaging with others, meeting new people and being able to help them if he could. Highly-regarded by his peers and the wider community, he was completely committed to his clients and the profession – but always had a light touch and a keen sense of humour.

When contacted by the secretary of a golf club, who had a problem with a member’s dog in the clubhouse, he inevitably came up with an amusing solution. After some commonsense advice failed to clear up the matter – mainly because the offending animal turned out to be an actual member of the club – he put on his thinking cap. The following advice was duly dispatched: the secretary was to write a letter, addressed to the dog, pointing out there had been complaints about his behaviour within the club and that he had been spotted naked outside the clubhouse relieving himself against a lamppost. In all the circumstances the club expected him to resign his membership immediately. It worked. Case closed. No further trouble from the dog.

After his illness forced him to retire in 1991 he continued as a consultant with Paull and Williamsons for some time. He also continued to enjoy life, whether that was through gardening – he knew all the Latin names of flowers and plants – and entertaining at his West End home or indulging in an excellent French red wine. In particular he shared a love of Scottish country dance music with his son Sandy, to whom he was devoted and who was very much part of the Park family life, endearing himself to all he met.

His passion for music also extended to flexing his own vocal chords – he had been known to send guests on their way with a resounding rendition of Bonnie Bessie Logan, performed on the front steps of his elegant home. More recently he had tremendous fun singing with a Parkinson’s singing group. In all, he lived with Parkinson’s Disease for 27 years and only very latterly lost a sense of his true identity.

Predeceased by their son Sandy, he is survived by Elizabeth, his wife of almost 52 years, their younger son William and his own sister ­Jennifer.