THE badge of historic office was passed from one rugby aficionado to another during a traditional swearing in ceremony today (Monday March 31).

Former Scottish Universities ‘blue’ Peter Bell handed the High Sheriff’s badge to passionate Welsh rugby enthusiast Gerald Osborne during his installation into the now mainly ceremonial role, at Durham Crown Court.

It saw the founder and now chairman of thriving family shower manufacturing business Roman Ltd, of Newton Aycliffe, become the 290th High Sheriff of County Durham.

Although born and brought up in the Pembrokeshire port town of Milford Haven, Mr Osborne has worked in industry round Great Britain and Northern Ireland, overseeing production and operations with companies in diverse fields of manufacturing, from chocolate, to footwear and tobacco products.

The move to become operations manager at Rothmans’ Darlington plant in the early 1980s brought him to County Durham, and he has remained ever since, now living with his wife Pamela in Croft on Tees.

Both their children were brought up in the county, and while daughter Kathy now lives and works in London, son David has remained on home soil to succeed him as managing director of Roman Ltd.

The family-owned business, set up by Mr Osborne on leaving Rothmans in 1985, has gone from strength to strength and now has a workforce of 160.

Mr Osborne plans to pass on some of his business expertise to aspiring young entrepreneurs he visits round the county during his year in office, while fund raising for the County Durham Community Foundation, of which he is a director and trustee.

During his shrieval year Mr Osborne’s chaplain will be The Venerable Simon Golding, an associate priest in the East Richmond ministry, while Anne Elliott, a partner in Darlington law firm Latimer Hinks, will again act as Under Sheriff.

Today's ceremony was presided over by Judge Christopher Prince, the Honorary Judicial Recorder of Durham, who welcomed Mr Osborne to the "ancient office".