04/12/2014 10:30 GMT | Updated 04/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Jeremy Thorpe, Former Liberal Leader, Dies Aged 85

Johnny Green/PA Archive
Former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe leaves a Service of Thanksgiving for former Labour Chancellor Lord Jenkins at Westminster Abbey in central London. * Lord Jenkins, who died at his Oxfordshire home in January, aged 82, was also Chancellor of Oxford University and a founding member of the SDP. He had been dubbed 'the grandfather of New Labour' and was a friend and mentor to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Tributes have been paid to former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, who has died aged 85. Thorpe, who headed the party in the 1960s and 1970s, had been battling with Parkinson's Disease for more than three decades.

Lord Steel of Aikwood, who succeeded him as party leader, said: "He had a genuine sympathy for the underprivileged - whether in his beloved North Devon where his first campaign was for 'mains, drains and a little bit of light' or in Africa, where he was a resolute fighter against apartheid and became a respected friend of people like President Kaunda of Zambia."

Thorpe had a glittering political career, helping to revive the Lilberals in the 1970s. But he was brought down by the sensational court case in which he was accused of conspiracy and incitement to murder former male model Norman Scott. After his acquittal in 1979 at the end of the Scott affair, he was rarely seen in public.

Liberal Democrat former minister Sir Nick Harvey, who represents Thorpe's former constituency of North Devon, described him as a "towering force in shaping the political landscape of the late 20th and early 21st centuries".

"Jeremy Thorpe was a colossal figure in the revival of the Liberal cause in post-war Britain and today's Lib Dem politicians continue to feast on his legacy," he said.

"His charisma, energy and innovative campaigning lit up his generation of British politics. He was the first to embrace fully the television age, the first to hit the campaign trail in a helicopter and both the first and, rather memorably, the last to deploy a hovercraft.

"He would have shone in whatever walk of life he chose, but it was to the lasting benefit of Liberalism that he rejected the Conservatism of his ancestors and devoted himself to progressive causes at home and abroad. In North Devon he was a greatly loved champion of the community and is remembered with huge affection to this day."

Thorpe's son, Rupert, said the politician "was a devoted husband to my two mothers, Caroline, who died tragically in 1970, and Marion who passed away in March and had raised me and stood by him through everything.

"His grandchildren and great grandchildren will miss him dearly, as will I."