Retirement of Judge Neil Butterfield

He handled cases with care, courtesy and skill.

Judges and barristers have paid tribute to the West Country’s most successful lawyer as he retired from the bench after a glittering career of more than 40 years.

Colleagues and members of the bar packed the seats of Exeter Crown Court for a ceremony to mark the retirement of Judge Mr Justice Butterfield.

He has been involved in many of the most high profile cases in Devon and Cornwall over the past four decades including the trials which followed the Maria Asumpta sinking and the Lyme Bay canoe tragedy.

He is probably best known as the judge who jailed Gary Glitter but has also prosecuted or presided over many other notable cases, including the region’s two most notorious murder trials of the past 25 years.

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He prosecuted in the case against Keith Rose, who shot supermarket tycoon Gerald Rowe’s wife Juliet in Budleigh Salterton and was briefly put under police protection when Rose escaped from Parkhurst.

He was judge in the case of Albert Walker, the Canadian conman who was jailed for the infamous Rolex killing in which Walker stole his victim’s identity, then dumped his body at sea off Dartmouth , only to be trapped when the body was trawled up by a fishing boat and identified from his watch.

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He went on to preside as judge over the trial of the skipper of the brigantine Maria Asumpta, which sank with the loss of three crew at the entrance to Padstow harbour.

Mr Justice Butterfield also pioneered a new career path for lawyers from the West Country, being the first from Devon and Cornwall to become a QC without first moving to London .

He enjoyed a meteoric rise from being a junior barrister known as Neil Butterfield to the higher echelons of the judiciary.

He continued to live near Crediton with his wife Cilla throughout a career in which he was appointed a judge within five years of taking silk and then swiftly promoted again to the Court of Appeal.

At his retirement ceremony he revealed that, as a struggling young barrister during his pupillage, he supplemented his income by performing as a conjurer at children’s parties under the pseudonym of Uncle Neil, the cheeky trickster.

The senior judge of the Western Circuit Mr Justice Field led tributes to him, saying he was the judge who was always entrusted with the most difficult cases, but always handled them with care, courtesy and skill.

He said:” “He has been the model judge, unshowy and courteous but always in charge and has always been relied on to try the most problematic cases.”

Judge Francis Gilbert, QC, who has just been appointed resident judge at Exeter , said he shared chambers with Neil Butterfield at the outset of his career.

He said: ”He established a well deserved reputation as the outstanding barrister and was in demand all across the country. His reputation as a trial judge was such that he was the judge of choice for heavyweight criminal trials.”

Mr Justice Butterfield thanked his colleagues for their tributes and said: ”I go with a great deal of sadness. The Western Circuit has given me great memories and I have been truly fortunate to have all that has come my way during a career of almost 50 years.

“I can only remember being treated with generosity and kindness and it has been a privilege to work with such exceptional people.”

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