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Ulster's Lord Chief Justice in tribute to tragic lawyer

By Claire McNeilly

The Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland yesterday paid a moving tribute to the leading Ulster barrister who died in a yachting accident in the Caribbean.

John Thompson QC, from Bangor, passed away in hospital in Barbados on Thursday, surrounded by his family.

Just six days earlier, the 54-year-old sustained critical head injuries after a large wave crashed into his yacht, Avocet, as he was competing in a transatlantic race.

Speaking at the start of a sitting of the Court of Appeal, Sir Brian Kerr described Mr Thompson as an outstanding barrister and dedicated family man.

"I know that the whole legal community will be in a state of shock this morning as they learn of the tragic and untimely death of John Thompson QC," he said.

"John was one of the leading counsel at the Bar in Northern Ireland. In his professional life he displayed superlative qualities of diligence, commitment and proficiency.

"His dedication to the law went far beyond the furtherance of his personal career. He regularly advised the profession on its approach in an array of areas. The loss of his service will be keenly felt."

Sir Brian acknowledged that his colleague died doing what he loved. He also extended his sympathy to Mr Thompson's family, who were at his bedside when he died.

"That sense of loss will be nothing compared to the grief that is experienced by his family and friends and it is to them that our thoughts turn," he said.

"John Thompson was a man of and for his family as the messages from his magnificent children on his website over the past days unmistakably testify.

"John was an irrepressibly cheerful and positive colleague and friend. That friendship ranged far beyond the legal profession. He was esteemed and loved by many in the wider community as recent news reports have shown.

"In particular, John was a greatly respected sailor and it is a cruel irony that it was while he was pursuing one of his grand loves that the freak accident that caused his death occurred."

The Chairman of the Bar, Noelle McGrenera QC, said that council members were greatly saddened to learn of the tragic death of their esteemed colleague.

"His death is not only a huge loss to the Bar, but is an incalculable loss to his family to whom we offer our sincere and heartfelt sympathy," she said.

As the tragic news about Mr Thompson's death continued to filter through, messages from those who knew and loved him continued to appear on the Avocet website yesterday.

So too, came entries from those he had never met.

"I never knew John or Avocet, never sailed with him, drank with him or met him on a shore or pontoon," wrote Gordon Pownall.

"I know from this site and his logs that he was a passionate sailor, an inspired skipper, a witty and humorous writer and a popular character.

"I know that the seas will be a little quieter and emptier from now on?"

Mr Thompson's family are establishing a charity to raise funds to facilitate organ donation at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Barbados, where he received treatment.

Belfast Telegraph

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