Alice Ritchie, AFP
Last updated: 14 September, 2014

David Haines: military man drawn to aid work

British aid worker David Haines was a former military man who spent years helping the neediest in war zones, a path of dedication that ended in his horrific murder by Islamic State militants in Syria.

To his family, the 44-year-old was a loving father, husband and what his brother described Sunday as “just another bloke” who could be the life and soul of the party, but was “most alive” when working in the toughest of circumstances.

Prime Minister David Cameron was more fulsome in his praise, describing the father-of-two as a “British hero”.

Haines trained with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and worked with relief agencies in the Balkans, Libya, South Sudan and finally in Syria, where he was seized by militants in March 2013 while working for the Paris-based NGO Acted.

After months of desperate silence, Haines appeared in a video earlier this month that showed the beheading of US journalist Steven Sotloff. In the gruesome clip, Haines was threatened with the same.

Britain had tried unsuccessfully to rescue him, and just hours before the video emerged his family had appealed to the militants holding him to enter into contact.

But IS made good on its threat and Haines became the third Western hostage to be beheaded in a month.

His brother said he had been “murdered in cold blood”, and would be “missed terribly”.

In a moving tribute, Mike Haines recalled a loving childhood growing up with his brother, with holidays in caravans and tents and youthful japes.

“David was like so very many of us, just another bloke,” he said.

“David was a good brother, there when I needed him and absent when I didn’t. I hope that he felt the same way about me.

“He was, in the right mood, the life and soul of the party and on other times the most stubborn irritating pain in the ass. He would probably say the same about me.”

– ‘Most alive’ in aid roles –

Haines was born in Yorkshire in northern England but moved to Scotland as a child, attending school in Perth before going to work for the Royal Mail postal service.

He then joined the RAF as an aircraft engineer, and his military service saw him work in “various positions covering security and threat assessments in a number of different countries”, according to his online CV.

It was during a posting in the Balkans that he began to turn towards humanitarian work, leaving the RAF to make trips to conflict zones while also working as a security consultant.

“He helped whoever needed help, regardless of race, creed or religion,” Mike Haines recalled.

He added: “David was most alive and enthusiastic in his humanitarian roles.

“His joy and anticipation for the work he went to do in Syria is for myself and family the most important element of this whole sad affair.”

He worked for several years for the German group Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund, which carried out post-war reconstruction work in Croatia.

In 2011, he worked in Libya as head of mission for Handicap International, which helps disabled people in poverty and conflict zones around the world.

The following year, he was in South Sudan with the US group Nonviolent Peaceforce, which deploys unarmed civilians as unofficial “peacekeepers” in conflict zones.

Haines “saved many people’s lives through his good work”, the group said Sunday, adding that they were “outraged by his brutal murder”.

– ‘Work cost his life’ –

Haines had a teenage daughter, Bethany, by his first wife Louise, his childhood sweetheart from Scotland.

In 2010, he married his Croatian second wife, Dragana Prodanovic, with whom he had a four-year-old daughter, Athea.

Cameron offered his “deep sympathy” to the family and vowed to find his killers.

“His selflessness, his decency, his burning desire to help others has today cost him his life,” the premier said.

“But the whole country, like his grieving family, can be incredibly proud of what he did and what he stood for in his humanitarian mission.”