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Viscount dies, aged 76

PUBLISHED: 11:00 23 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:36 01 August 2010

LAWYER, judge, government minister, former chairman of the Parole Board and former owner of Worlingham Hall, Viscount Colville of Culross, has died at his home, aged 76.

LAWYER, judge, government minister, former chairman of the Parole Board and former owner of Worlingham Hall, Viscount Colville of Culross, has died at his home, aged 76.

His record of public service over more than four decades continued until very shortly before his sudden death. He had also been contributing to debates in the House of Lords until a few weeks ago.

Ten years ago, Mark Colville took up the cudgels to prevent a 50-acre quarry near his home becoming a landfill tip. The so-called “Lexham Revolt” forced planners to backtrack thanks in part to the successful legal challenges by the circuit court judge and his barrister wife, Viscountess Davidson, who lived about half a mile from the proposed site.

He became the 4th Viscount Colville aged 11 when his father was killed in an air accident on the Azores in March 1945 while on military service. He was also the 14th Baron Culross, a title created in 1604 but was elected as one of the 92 hereditary peers to the Lords in 1999.

The Colville family had been associated with Worlingham in medieval times, when their name had been given to nearby Carlton Colville. He bought Worlingham Hall in 1963 - now on the market for £3.4m - but sold it in the late 1990s after restoring the Georgian, grade I listed house to a very high standard and moved to West Lexham, near Swaffham.

After school at Rugby and then New College, Oxford, his family legal background led to his becoming a barrister in 1960 at Lincoln's Inn, winning the Buchanan Prize. He developed a career in business, becoming a director of Boulton & Paul's parent company, British Electric Traction, for the first time in 1961.

He became minister of state for the Home Office between 1972 and 1974 under Edward Heath before returning to the law and business. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1978 and had a reputation as a human rights lawyer. He was the UK's representative on the UN human rights' committee from 1980 to 1983, and again between 1995 and 2000.

A number of other high level posts followed chairman of the UN working group on disappeared persons. In 1983, he became chairman of the Mental Health Act Committee for five years, where former government minister, Lady Gillian Shephard, was also a commissioner.

He was chairman of the Parole Board between 1988 and 1992, where his second wife, Margaret Birgitta, Viscountess Davidson, had earlier been a member.

A member of the University of East Anglia's Council between 1968 and 1972, he was given an honorary doctorate in 1998.

He was also a member of the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen's bodyguard for Scotland.

He had been made a recorder in 1990 and then a circuit judge between 1993 and 1999. When he moved to Norfolk in 1997, he restored West Lexham Manor with great care, skill and attention to detail. But his great love was creating a 18th pavilion or grotto by the river edge.

“He loved Norfolk and Suffolk and was a great countryman, who was equally at home in city or country. An outstanding public servant, with a very fine mind, and a sad loss,” said former SW Norfolk MP, Lady Shephard.

He is survived by his wife and five sons. His eldest son, Charles, Master of Colville, succeeds to the title. A family funeral will be held at St Nicholas', West Lexham, where he was the only churchwarden.

A service of thanksgiving is to be held in London.

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