Lara Symons is the Director of Hostage International.
She has a distinguished career working in crisis response, having joined Control Risks in 1999 as the Crisis Response Research Manager and was appointed Director of Response Business Operations in 2009. She joined Hostage in February 2017 as their first full-time director, bringing with her an exceptional knowledge of worldwide kidnapping trends and an understanding of the impact that kidnapping has on both corporates and families. She has extensive experience in directly assisting families affected by a kidnap and in supporting former hostages. Lara regularly delivers training in best practice in family support and hostage re-integration.
Lara holds first class degrees in Law (University of Oxford) and Political Science (McGill University) and a Masters degree in International Relations (McGill University). She qualified as a solicitor in 1997, and practised as a civil litigator in London. Fluent in French and Spanish, Lara also previously worked at the European Commission in Brussels.
Having spent more than 17 years on a kidnap response team, I acquired an insight into the distressing impact kidnapping has on all those closely associated with it. Working with Hostage International, I have come to recognise the many, additional practical and day-to-day issues that families and former hostages face. Hostage International plays a critical and unique role in offering accessible, independent and confidential support to help the families of hostages and returning hostages cope with those issues.
Jess joined Hostage International in July 2017 as the Coordinator. She organises the Family and Hostage Support Service and alongside Lara, looks after the day-to-day running of the organisation.
Prior to joining Hostage International, Jess managed staff in administration and events and worked for the British Red Cross in emergency response, where she coordinated a county-level service and led voluntary teams to provide practical and emotional support to people affected by a variety of incidents.
Jess holds a Master’s degree in History and Archaeology from the University of Edinburgh and another in International Security Studies from the University of Reading.
In her spare time, Jess can be found sailing on lakes and oceans, in the yoga studio or hiking in the countryside. Jess also volunteers time teaching young people outdoor activities and loves to travel.
From working in emergencies and the humanitarian sector, I recognise the importance of supporting individuals during difficult times. My time with Hostage International has shown me the unique issues that can arise for hostages and their families and I am proud to work amongst this dedicated team, which works tirelessly to resolve issues and make the situations more bearable for families.
PROFESSOR DAVID ALEXANDER
FBPS, FRSM, (Hon) FRCPsych
Professor David Alexander is Emeritus Professor of Mental Health at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. He was formerly Professor of Mental Health in the Faculty of Medicine, Aberdeen University; Consultant in Charge of the Regional Traumatic Stress Clinic (which he set up as Scotland’s first specialist trauma clinic), and Director of the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research (which he established with Professor Susan Klein). He has worked with the Scottish Police for over 20 years, and is an Associate Member of both the Scottish Institute for Policing Research and the Scottish Police College, contributing to local, national and international exercises. He is one of three Principal Advisors to the UK police services for the most serious incidents and was a Visiting Consultant at HMP Peterhead.
David attended St Andrew’s University; the University of Dundee, and the University of Aberdeen and trained in advanced forensic psychiatry (Birmingham University) and police advanced techniques in relation to stress management, and hostage negotiation at the FBI Academy. He also attended specialist courses at the University of Pennsylvania (CBT), University of Maryland (CISD), and the Royal Victoria Hospital (Belfast) (EMDR).
Having led the psychiatric response to the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988, he has been an adviser on many major traumatic events, including disasters in Russia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Pakistan. He is on the list of Specialists, held by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, willing to be deployed to major incidents and conflict zones. For his work after the Pakistan Earthquake of 2005 he received a Humanitarian Award from the Scottish Government and an award from the British Council to develop their clinical, training and research activities in Pakistan. He has continued to work with the Pakistan military following terrorist incidents; the “deradicalisation” of suicide bombers, and the floods in the Punjab. As a result, he was made an Honorary Professor at Pakistan’s National University of Sciences and Technology. In 2001 he became the Distinguished Trauma Visitor, advising on trauma management at hospitals in South Africa and teaching at the University of Witwatersrand. He worked in Croatia during the Balkans’ Conflict and reviewed the mental health services in Iraq shortly after the invasion by the Coalition Forces.
Other appointments include: Director of the International Police Association; External Adviser to the Universities of Ulster and Chester, Founding Member of Hostage International (at the invitation of Mr Terry Waite, CBE); Founder Member of Trauma Care; Member of the Working Party on the discharge of those convicted of terrorist crimes (set up by the British Psychological Society); Member of the Scottish Government’s Resilience Advisory Board, and Member of Lord Boyce’s Independent Scrutiny Group and of Sir Anthony Newman-Taylor’s Independent Expert Medical Group. These appointments confirm his standing as an “Officer of the Crown”.
David teaches hostage negotiation, crisis and trauma management, and terrorism at the Scottish Police College and has taught at the English Police Training College, the FBI Academy, the Russian School of Militia, the Pakistan Army Medical College, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UK Home Office. He has run workshops on hostage negotiation for senior officers at the School of Military Intelligence, Murree, Pakistan. He has lectured on terrorism, trauma research, and the “State of the Art” of psychological responses after major catastrophe, at the Armed Forces’ Institute for Mental Health, Rawalpindi, and international conferences in Islamabad and gives presentations worldwide, frequently as the Principal, Guest or Keynote Speaker. Professor Alexander has published over 200 peer-reviewed articles, 30 chapters, three books.
He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society; a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
DR LESLEY PERMAN-KERR
Dr Lesley Perman-Kerr is the Managing Director of Vivant Artemis and is a Chartered Psychologist and psychotherapist. She was awarded a PhD in Psychology, jointly supervised by the Universities of Hertfordshire and Oxford, and is a member of the British Psychological Society (chartered), the National Council of Psychotherapists, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and is a founder member of the Association of Business Psychologists. She has professional experience in: ongoing/post hostage, kidnap and other traumatic incidents (including 9/11); personnel dealing with psychiatric disorders and intimidation in the workplace; organisations subject to employee extortion threats; individuals preparing for secondments abroad; armed forces personnel: post-engagement or returning to civilian life; individuals and groups following a critical incident; debriefing and counselling; organisations and individuals on stress inoculation and the management of stress.
PROFESSOR GORDON TURNBULL
Professor Gordon Turnbull is a consultant psychiatrist specialising in the assessment of patients suffering from the psychological after-effects of trauma. He is the leading Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) expert at Capio Nightingale Hospital, Consultant Advisor in Psychiatry to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Visiting Professor to University College Chester. Professor Turnbull graduated from Edinburgh University and entered psychiatry at the Neuropsychiatric Centre, Royal Air Force Hospital Wroughton in Wiltshire in 1980 with post-graduate experience in General Medicine, expedition medicine and neurology. After being appointed Consultant in 1986, his focus turned to psychological trauma after the Lockerbie Air Disaster in 1988, and active service in the Gulf War of 1991 as RAF psychiatric adviser in the field doing first-ever debriefings of British prisoners-of-war and released British hostages from the Lebanon. He developed new treatment strategies for trauma in the RAF and post-RAF has concentrated on trauma services for police officers, emergency service personnel and military veterans.
PROFESSOR NEIL GREENBERG
BM, BSc, MMedSc, FHEA, MFMLM, DOccMed, MEWI, MFFLM, MD, FRCPsych
Professor of Defence Mental Health
Professor Neil Greenberg is an academic psychiatrist based at King’s College London UK and is a consultant occupational and forensic psychiatrist. Neil served in the United Kingdom Armed Forces for more than 23 years and has deployed, as a psychiatrist and researcher, to a number of hostile environments including Afghanistan and Iraq. Neil also runs March on Stress (www.marchonstress.com) which is a company that provides a range of psychological health offerings to companies that predictably place their personnel in harm’s way.
Neil studied medicine at Southampton University and graduated in 1993. He then served as a general duties doctor in a variety of Warships, Submarines and with two Royal Marines Commando units. During his time with the Royal Marines he achieved his arctic warfare qualification and completed the all arms commando course, earning the coveted Green Beret.
Neil has specialised in Psychiatry and completed a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychiatry, a Doctorate in Mental Health and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He is a specialist in General Adult, Forensic and Liaison Psychiatry and is a member of the faculty of forensic and legal medicine and the faculty of medical leadership and management.
Since 1997 Neil has been at the forefront of developing peer led traumatic stress support packages which is now in use by a wide variety of organisations. The use of Trauma Risk Management (TRiM) was initially led by the Royal Marines and has since been taken up by other organisations including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, media organisations numerous UK police forces and the London Ambulance Service.
Neil provided psychological input for Foreign Office personnel after the events of September 11th 2001 and in Bali after 12th October 2002 bombings. He has also assisted with the aftermath management of number of other significant incidents including assisting the London Ambulance Service in the wake of the London Bombings in 2005. He has also provided mental health input into the psychological repatriation of a number of hostages over the past ten years.
In 2008 he was awarded the Gilbert Blane Medal by the Royal Navy for his work in supporting the health of Naval personnel through his research work.
Neil has published more than 160 scientific papers, book chapters and has presented to national and international audiences on matters concerning the psychological health of the UK Armed Forces, organisational management of traumatic stress and occupational mental health. He has been the Secretary of the European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, is the President of the UK Psychological Trauma Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Lead for Military and Veterans Health.
Neil has extensive experience of conducting research in military and veteran populations and has successfully led the first two ever randomised controlled trials on the effectiveness of psychological health interventions in the UK Armed Forces. He has established excellent links with veteran health providers and with US and other coalition military mental health providers and researchers. He, working with the team at King’s College London, is one of the UK’s leading military health researchers and has published very widely on a broad spectrum of military health and traumatic stress related topics (www.kcl.ac.uk/kcmhr) and advises the Armed Forces, Media organisations and UK government regularly about mental health issues.