TRIBUTES have been paid to a highly-successful Hampshire businessman who was renowned for his generosity.

Former Saints chairman Leon Crouch, who has died aged 70, used his wealth and business expertise to support a raft of good causes.

Mr Crouch, of Normandy Lane, Lymington, became one of the biggest industrialists in the New Forest after founding the Fullers Group in 1978.

In 2015 he sold his company, Lymington Precision Engineers, which employed more than 220 people, for around £46m.

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Mr Crouch was a lifelong Saints fan and paid more than £1.6m to purchase a significant stake in the club in 2006. The following year he became acting chairman and then chairman, serving until the end of the 2007/08 season.

He is credited with keeping Saints afloat, dipping into his own pocket to pay wages and other overheads after they went into administration in 2009.

Mr Crouch died in Oakhaven Hospice, Lymington, yesterday after battling cancer.

One of the most heartfelt tributes was paid by Hampshire mum Vicki Mills, who launched a £50,000 appeal to help her son James walk unaided.

James was born with cerebral palsy and needed an operation known as Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR), which improves a patient’s mobility but is not available on the NHS.

Vicki, 33, of Hythe, said the fund reached its target after Mr Crouch donated about £30,000.

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She added: "As soon as he heard about James he got in contact with me and offered to help. If it hadn't been for him I think I'd have struggled to get the rest of the money - it's so sad we have lost such a great man.

"James is now seven and doing really well. He's walking independently and only uses his wheelchair when he gets tired."

Lymington businessman Neil Welker added: "Leon was a Lymington legend who did an incredible job - he put everything he could back into his local community. People like him come around only once in a lifetime."

One of Mr Crouch's closest friends was Patrick Trant, chairman of Trant Engineering.

He said: "Leon was an English gentleman. From humble beginnings he achieved outstanding success in his business career and was also incredibly kind to charitable causes."

Recalling Mr Crouch's time at St Mary's he added: "Saints fans will remember him for stepping up in a crisis when others walked away."

Former Lymington mayor Anna Rostand added: "Lymington has lost a local hero."

Town councillor Jacqui England said: "He was a unique individual who did an awful lot for the economy of Lymington and the welfare of the people who live here."