ROD Richards, the former MP, AM, and leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly, has died aged 72 after a long period of illness.

Mr Richards passed away in Penarth's Marie Curie Hospice.

Mr Richards was born in Llanelli in 1947 and was educated at Llandovery College.

He served in the Royal Marines, and went on to read economics and statistics at the University College of Wales, in Swansea.

Aside from politics, Mr Richards worked as an economic forecaster, an intelligence officer for the Ministry of Defence, and a BBC Wales journalist.

He became political adviser to David Hunt MP – now Lord Hunt of Wirral – and began his own career in politics with two unsuccessful bids to become an MP, first for Carmarthen in 1987; then in a by-election for the Vale of Glamorgan seat in 1989.

Mr Richards became the MP for Clwyd North West in 1992, but lost his seat in the 1997 General Election.

At the formation of the Welsh Assembly in 1999, he ran as a constituency target for Clwyd West – and lost – but was elected a regional AM for North Wales based on the proportional representation system.

In 2002, Mr Richards was elected the leader of the Conservatives in the Assembly, but quit the post three months later after being charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm on a woman. He was later acquitted at trial of assault.

He continued to sit in the Welsh Assembly as an independent until his resignation in 2002.

In 2013, he announced his defection to UKIP.

Following news of Mr Richards' death, Andrew RT Davies AM tweeted: "[I] never sat along side Rod as an AM but certainly appreciate the passion he brought to politics.

"Some flaws saw a premature end to a fiery political career, but one which will not be forgotten by those in [the Welsh Conservatives]. Thoughts with his family and friends."

And Alun Cairns, the secretary of state for Wales, tweeted: "Very sad to learn of the passing of Rod Richards – a man with a great passion for politics.

"I had enormous respect for the political ability he demonstrated. My condolences go out to his friends and family."