PhD Candidate


Alistair Shields is a PhD Candidate in the Nursing and Paramedic Science Division at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. Alistair also has affiliations to the Scottish Institute of Policing Research.


I am a part-time PhD candidate within the Centre for Person-centred Practice research at Queen Margaret University. I am a retired Police Officer with extensive experience in leading missing person investigations and specialist search management along with public order and response policing roles. I remain a volunteer with Police Scotland as a Specialist Search adviser, mentor, and instructor.

Since retiring, I graduated from Dundee University with a master’s degree, gained following completion of the Scottish Institute of Policing Research supported programme, in Applied Professional Studies – Policing. I gained knowledge on policing mega-events by undertaking research whilst the Satellite Venue Security Manger in Edinburgh during the 2014 Commonwealth Games. In 2016 I was a research assistant on the review team engaged to look at the work of Police Scotland’s National Child Abuse Investigation Unit.

My career in policing and vocational education has seen me in a breadth of roles including as a specialist search adviser, Deputy Director of Studies at the Police National Search Centre, and Senior Investigation Officer on significant missing person incidents. With over 20 years’ experience in the field of specialist search I continue to provide instruction to practitioners engaged in public safety, community wellbeing, and policing.

This experience led to developing an interest in the information and intelligence available to a missing person investigator, specifically regarding people living with dementia who are reported as missing. Along with exploring past records of investigations the development of a method for the capturing, in a person-centred fashion, a person’s own experience and motivations of travelling has become a focus of my research

Research Interests

Research Overview:

Evidence suggests that when people living with dementia go missing, they seek out locations which have some historic personal relevance. Police investigations are adversely affected by relevant location information not being readily available.

My research will seek to analyse Police Scotland records for the impact of location information on the investigation. The practices of people with dementia, particularly on their experience of navigating outdoors will be explored.

Capturing, in a person-centred fashion, details of significant locations for each person allows them to provide authoritative information to the police investigation. It permits an engagement regarding their future personal safety, express their choices on the managing the risk of going missing and the potential consequences for their future care.

The availability of locations of interest for a person living with dementia if reported missing can inform the police response providing an earlier recovery and a reduction in any adverse after-effects.

 Active research interests:

  • Persons living with Dementia who go missing
  • Missing person
  • Specialist search
  • Search management
  • Critical Incident Leadership
  • Search vulnerability risk assessment

Research Methods:

  • Mixed methods research
  • Photo voice
  • Photo elicitation
  • Qualitative interviews
  • Descriptive analysis

Alistair is also affiliated with the Centre for Person-Centred Research and Centre for Applied Social Science.

Teaching and Learning

As a Graduate Teaching Assistant, I provide support and learning to Nursing and Paramedic Science programmes regarding the role of police, inter-agency and partnership working, inter-operability procedures, and operational decision making.