A GRANDFATHER who was the victim of a serious assault in Banff has admitted: "I am lucky to be alive."
Alex Sutherland is recovering at home after the terrifying attack in the early hours of Monday morning.
The 59-year-old was attacked by up to five men, some of them wearing hooded tops, who left him covered in blood and unconscious, before they fled the scene in a car.
"I don’t want this to happen to anyone else so I hope the police can get them," he said.
Mr Sutherland was initially taken to Chalmers Hospital in Banff before being rushed by ambulance to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary under a police escort.
He had lost so much blood that hospital staff revealed to his family he came close to needing a blood transfusion.
A brain scan revealed no internal bleeding but Mr Sutherland needed a total of 11 stiches in two deep wounds above his eyes, and his face and neck were badly bruised. He has a badly injured right thumb and may need an operation to repair the damage.
He was released from hospital on Monday evening and is now coming to terms with the ordeal at home in Banff.
He told the Banffie: "I knew I couldn’t run and I felt a big smack on the back of my head which knocked me clean out. I never felt any other blows but they have obviously kicked and punched me on the face."
Mr Sutherland, who has worked for Abereenshire Council for 27 years, latterly as a roads construction inspector, added: "I lost a lot of blood. I woke up in Chalmers Hospital and could feel the blood pumping out of the wounds and running down the side of my face.
"I am lucky to still be here. It was a completely unprovoked attack. I can’t remember how many there were and just felt a wallop on the back of my head. I wasn’t going to turn and fight as that could have made things worse.
"I was sick a couple of times on the journey to Aberdeen and also fainted."
Mr Sutherland, who is a drummer in a ceilidh band and has played in bands for 40 years, is not a regular pubgoer and had been celebrating friend Gordon Barron’s 60th birthday at the Railway Inn on Sunday afternoon, which is owned by Gordon and his wife Teresa, and also enjoyed listening to a performance in the evening by musician Dougie Barron, a former bandmate from years ago.
Gordon’s father used to play in the local pipe band and he and Mr Sutherland had enjoyed reminiscing about the times as children when they used to follow the pipe band through the streets of Banff as it played.
Mr Sutherland, who will be 60 in May, had enjoyed a last drink of the evening with his nephew and his nephew's friend.
"I’d had a few drinks but wasn’t drunk and knew what I was doing. I haven’t been to the pub for about 20 years, except for special occasions."
As they were walking home, his nephew saw a man he knew lying in North Castle Street and stopped to enquire if he was all right.
They became aware of a group of men close by and the three men started to head away from the scene.
Mr Sutherland said: "One of the boys started shouting at my nephew. We started to walk away; the lads were about 10 steps behind me and my nephew shouted ‘run boys they are after us’."
In the confusion the other two men were able to get away but, unknown to them, Mr Sutherland had been struck and appears to have been dragged into nearby Stuart Lane, where he was attacked.
He was found a short time later by his nephew's wife, who had driven to the scene when her husband arrived home in a distressed state, and she had picked up the friend, before finding Alex lying injured in the lane.
Mr Sutherland’s wife Andrea said: "He is a good family man and well liked. People are really shocked by what has happened. How can people do that?
"Justice has got to be done and these people caught."
Mrs Sutherland was unable to travel through to Aberdeen immediately due to illness but along with their daughter Jenny and son Gavin, she travelled through to Aberdeen later on the Monday and were all relieved when he was given the all clear to go home.
Mr Sutherland, who was born and brought up in Banff, said the attack has badly shaken his confidence.
"I am lucky I am still here. I have deep cuts on my head and I feel my face swollen more now. I am taking tablets for the pain.
"I am feeling more pain in my chest now. I thought they hadn’t touched my body but I am beginning to feel it more now.
"I went to my bed last night (Monday) and started shaking and couldn’t get out of it. I feel more pain coming out of my head and my ears are ringing, and my jaw is sore."
His right eye was closed in the aftermath of the attack but has reopened but there is bad bruising around both eyes.
Mr Sutherland paid tribute to the nursing staff at Chalmers Hospital, the ambulance crews who took him to Aberdeen, hospital staff at ARI and police officers who are investigating the incident.
The couple have been heartened by the messages of support and callers at their home in Banff.
PC Craig Milne, the investigating officer, said: "I would appeal to anyone who was in the area around the time in question and saw anything that could assist us with our inquiries to get in touch as soon as possible.
"In particular I would appeal to any taxi drivers, motorists or locals who may have been making their way home and saw a group of four or five men in their thirties to let us know.
"We understand some of these men may have been wearing hooded tops and also believe they may have been using a black or dark-coloured car, possibly an Audi."
The incident happened around 12.45am on Monday, March 13 in the North Castle Street/Stuart Lane area of the town.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the police on 101 or if they wish to remain anonymous to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.