Tributes have been paid to a judge who presided over many of the West Country’s most famous trials.

Judge Graham Cottle died on Friday, April 26 at the age of 72 from complications arising from a hip operation, just a year after retiring from the bench.

He had been the presiding judge at both Truro and Exeter, where his 25 years of judicial service was honoured when he was made Recorder of the City.

His successor Judge Peter Johnson led tributes in a ceremony at Exeter Crown Court today (Monday, April 29) which was packed with barristers, solicitors and court staff.

He said: “Judge Cottle oversaw many of the most significant criminal cases of the last two decades. He will be remembered as a fine man and a great judge, who had the right instincts.

“He was intelligent, humane, with a great understanding of human nature. He fearlessly did what he thought was right.

“Our leading legal light in Devon has been extinguished, but we will always remember how brightly it shone.”

Simon Laws, QC, speaking on behalf of the bar, said: “He would probably be proud to be described as forthright. He approached every case with enormous helpings of common sense.”

His death came just 13 months after he retired from the bench after 25 years of service in Devon and Cornwall.

During his time as a judge he presided over the trials of so-called 'witch' Margaret James, who organised the murder of occultist Peter Solheim, whose body was dumped at sea after he was beaten and tortured.

Judge Cottle also jailed Nicholas Rose for the murder of Charlotte Pinkney, who vanished after a party in Ilfracombe in 2005.

More recently he oversaw the trial of Stuart Hodgkin, who was convicted at Exeter Crown Court of the murder of Adrian Munday at his home in Newton Abbot.

The last major case which the judge dealt with was the killing of electrician Philip Ryan by mentally disturbed Keith Beviss at the Jehovah's Witness hall in Honiton.

He sent Beviss to a mental hospital indefinitely.