North Devon’s Liberal Democrats have been paying tribute to former party leader Paddy Ashdown.

Last year Paddy Ashdown said it was 'a folly' to close RMB Chivenor: Picture: Peter Byrne/PA WireLast year Paddy Ashdown said it was 'a folly' to close RMB Chivenor: Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Lord Ashdown died on Saturday from bladder cancer, aged 77.

He led the Liberal Democrats from 1988-1999 and served as MP for Yeovil for 18 years until retiring in 2001.

The former Royal Marine and Special Boat Service officer visited North Devon on numerous occasions, including to support the local party general election campaign.

In 2016 he was one of the authors to be part of Appledore Book Festival, speaking about his book Game of Spies, while in 2012 he was one of the speakers at the well-known Clovelly Lectures series.

Kirsten Johnson, North Devon’s Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidate, said they were deeply saddened to hear of his death.

She said: “His contribution to national and international politics was beyond comparison. He campaigned for Liberal values throughout his life.

“He regularly came to North Devon to support Sir Nick Harvey – particularly working both here, and behind the scenes at Westminster, to support the retention of RMB Chivenor, as a former marine himself.

“He was the least cynical of politicians – he said what he meant and meant what he said. North Devon owes him a huge debt of gratitude and we shall miss him indeed.”

Speaking during his visit to Appledore Book Festival in 2016, Lord Ashdown said “I’m glad to be back here in Appledore.

“This area was really part of my early life when I was 18 or 19 while training with the Royal Marines at Chivenor and on Saunton Sands.”

And last year he did not hesitate to comment on proposals to close RMB Chivenor, call it ‘a folly’.

He said: “In an unpredictable age, we need forces that are fast, flexible and mobile. That’s what the Royal Marines do at a world-class level.

“To cut their numbers to fill a naval manpower black hole is not just poor reward for their service over the last years, but a folly which plays fast and loose with the nation’s defences.”