Photographer who took the first pictures of the Lockerbie disaster

Born: March 15, 1939;

Died: August 30, 2019

DAVID Mitchell, who has died aged 80, was the first press photographer at the scene of the Lockerbie Bombing, the terrorist atrocity in which 259 people died in 1988.

The main roads through Dumfries-shire were closed immediately after Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to Detroit was destroyed by a bomb. All 243 passengers and 16 crew were killed.

Wreckage from the aircraft and the bodies of victims were scattered over the M74 dual carriageway, the roofs and gardens of houses in Lockerbie itself and the rural hills and fields which surround the village.

However, local knowledge of Dumfries-shire’s narrow back roads and farm tracks, dating back to his time as a boarder at St Joseph’s College, Dumfries, helped Mitchell to navigate to the scene of disaster and take the first photographs. His brilliant photographs appeared in newspapers across the world.

And one of them won him the award of News Photographer of the Year.

David Robertson Mitchell’s parents were Lilla Atkins, a Londoner, and David Mitchell of Broughty Ferry, Dundee.

Life was hard for the young family with David Snr enlisted into the Royal Horse Artillery, living in London and bombed out twice during the Blitz.

Available housing being scarce in wartime and David Snr stationed in Southern Scotland. The family home became the village of Wanlockhead, and a new, very different life began with his father visiting only when on leave.

Mitchell, like his elder brother Angus, proved a bright scholar and gained a place at St Joseph’s College, Dumfries, where he was educated by the Marist Brothers.

Mitchell left school and joined the Parachute Regiment in a Boy’s Own adventure which led him to Cyprus defending the Greek residents against Atatürk.

Amidst the turmoil of that time, he won many medals for his marksmanship and met some life-long friends.

Invalided out of the Paras after an accident which burst his eardrum, he moved to Glasgow to find work and boarded with Bessie Mackay in Hyndland. It was there that he met Bessie’s niece – Moreen – whom he courted and later married in 1963.

The couple first lived in a tenement off Byres Road before moving to India Street in Alexandria and making Vale of Leven their home. They brought up four children Gerard, Elaine, Gillian and Jeff.

David Mitchell was always a keen photographer, creating a dark room in the basement of his home. His first break into that business came with the Quality of Life Experiment in Dunbartonshire in the 1970s when he charted local life through the lens as part of a social development project.

From there he joined Brian Averell to form Mitchell and Averell Photographers and set up a small studio. Together they undertook many assignments for the local paper – the Lennox Herald – and as they took pictures in schools, few pupils missed the uncanny likeness between David and the then Doctor Who, Tom Baker. Annual class photographs became a popular event and one class even gifted him the infamous Doctor Who scarf.

In time, the photographic business grew and Mitchell and Averell took on two apprentices – Gerard and Jeff – both of whom won awards under their father’s tutelage and eventually moved on to forge their own careers in London and with renowned agencies such as Getty’s.

David’s career developed too and he moved on to form a new agency in Glasgow ‘MacPhoto’ and branch out to the national and international scene.

He was immensely proud of his five grandsons – Fraser, Cameron, Finlay, Callum, and Tom – David was always keen to support and help with the school pick-ups.

BILL HEANEY