THE sheriff famed for finding Rangers FC liable for the deaths of 66 people in the Ibrox stadium disaster has died aged 89.

Sheriff Irvine Smith QC died at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley on Monday.

Born in Falkirk in 1926, he went on to become one of the most formidable criminal lawyers of his generation. As a QC - he was called to the Bar in 1953 - he acted for the defence in the infamous Glasgow Bank Raid case, dubbed at the time as "the crime of the century". He also defended five capital murder trials before the abolition of the death penalty.

In 1963, he was admitted to the Bench as Sheriff-substitute of Lanarkshire before becoming Sheriff of North Strathclyde, encompassing Greenock, Dunoon and Rothesay, in 1983.

His wit and no-nonsense approach became legendary during a 28-year career as a sheriff, which he immortalised in his 2011 autobiography, 'Law, Life and Laughter'.

Sheriff Smith attracted headlines with his hardline approach to football hooligans, who he punished with heavy fines.

He presided over a civil damages trial into the Ibrox disaster, in which 66 people died in a crush on an exit stairway at the east end of the stadium on January 2, 1971, and found that it “was due to the fault and negligence of the defenders, Rangers FC”.

The result of the trial – a civil ‘test case’ raised at Glasgow Sheriff Court in May 1974 by the widow of one of the Ibrox victims, Charles Dougan – was agreed by all sides to be conclusive of all the other deaths in the disaster.

Sheriff Smith also campaigned against glue-sniffing and on one occasion criticised the legal system for allowing him to impose only a three-month sentence on a vandal who had caused damage worth £39,000.

His humour and eloquence also made him one of Scotland's most popular after-dinner speakers, particularly for Burns Suppers.

Following his retirement in 1991, he relocated to the Isle of Bute with his wife, Diana, and continued to sit as a temporary Sheriff at Rothesay.

His funeral will be held at the United Church of Bute in Rothesay on Saturday at 12.30pm.