Ronald Ireland QC

Former sheriff principal of The Highlands

Born: March 13, 1925.

Died: April 30, 2016.

RONALD Ireland QC, who has died aged 91, was a long time Professor of Scots Law at Aberdeen University who went on to become one of Scotland's most-respected sheriffs. He was Principal Sheriff of Grampian, Highland and Islands from 1988-93, perhaps best-known for leading a public Fatal Accident Inquiry in Aberdeen Sheriff Court into the September 22, 1988, explosion on the North Sea oil rig Ocean Odyssey.

The enquiry led to an out of court settlement under which Arco, the rig owner, and Odeco, its operator, agreed to pay out more than £5 million to survivors who said they suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. One man, Timothy Williams, died in the blast. After Sheriff Ireland announced his findings, the two companies made payouts to 33 claimants said to have between £50,000 and £300,000. Sheriff Ireland found that Arco and Odeco had shown ''a reckless disregard for the safety of the men.''

The accident happened despite lessons meant to have been learnt from the Piper Alpha oil and gas rig disaster north-east of Aberdeen which killed 167 less than three months earlier.

Dr Ireland also hit the Highland headlines in June 1989 when he backed Caledonian MacBrayne in its bid to run Sunday ferry services from mainland Scotland to Lochmaddy in North Uist. The ruling upset Sabbatarians, those who support the Hebridean tradition of strict Sabbath observance. "If it (the ferry) is open on Sundays, " he said, "it will enable a great number of people on the islands to visit the mainland ... to visit children or relatives in hospital, to take young people on outings, or to go shopping, and return after the weekend without losing a day's work on Monday."

Ronald David Ireland was born on March 13, 1925, in the Edinburgh area to William Alexander Ireland and Agnes Brown. He attended George Watson's College in Edinburgh, got a BA and MA from Oxford (Balliol College) and graduated with his LLB from Edinburgh University in 1952.

Called up when he turned 18, he served in the Royal Corps of Signals during the last two years of World War Two, helping provide communications support for the combat troops on the continent. Returning to his studies in 1946, he passed as Advocate in 1952 and took Silk in 1964 becoming Queen's Counsel.

His first appointment as Sheriff, in 1972, covered Lothian and Borders (formerly Lothians and Peebles), based in Edinburgh, where he remained until 1988 and was elevated to Sheriff Principle of Grampian, Highland and Islands.

He was Clerk of the Faculty of Advocates, based in Edinburgh, from 1957-58, before joining Aberdeen University as Professor of Scots Law in 1958, remaining until 1971 and retiring as Honorary Professor in 1993. He was given an honorary LLD from Aberdeen in 1994.

During his career, he also served as Governor of Aberdeen College of Education (1959-64, including two years as vice-chairman), on the boards of Aberdeen General Hospitals (1961-71) and also on the North Eastern Regional Hospital Board (1964-71, including five years as vice-chairman. Dr Ireland also served on the National Staff Advisory Committee of the Scottish Hospital Service and as Chairman of Scottish Hospitals Administrative Staffs Committee.

In his spare time during his early retirement, he was a member of the New Club on Edinburgh's Princes Street, Scotland's oldest private member's club, and at the Royal Northern and University Club in Aberdeen.

Sheriff Ireland died at his home in Edinburgh. Details of his family survivors were not announced.