FORMER Bishop of Salisbury the Right Reverend John Baker has died at the age of 86.

Bishop Baker led the Salisbury Diocese from 1982 to 1993 and was a keen animal campaigner, an advocate of nuclear disarmament and, after his retirement, spoke out in support of gay clergy.

He described the Church of England’s decision to allow women into the priesthood as a “great day”. Bishop Baker had strong views about social issues affecting the city including drug use, poverty, fair pay for health workers and a “sex obsessed culture.”

He also spoke out about tourist coach parking for the cathedral – an issue being raised again today.

Bishop Baker, who rescued a “once unwanted” dog to live with him and his wife Jill in the South Canonry, was a passionate supporter of animal welfare.

He condemned battery chicken farming -attracting the wrath of local farmers – attacked a Government bill allowing animal experiments and supported anti-hunt campaigners including the New Forest Deerhunt Abolition Alliance.

“From the Christian point of view we are not entitled to inflict cruelty on animals, and the chasing of animals is cruel,” he said.

Bishop Baker was equally passionate about the abolition of nuclear weapons and was chairman of a working party that produced the controversial report The Church and the Bomb.

He believed that nuclear weapons should be phased out claiming “none of us will have clean hands until everyone in the world is free of this plague”.

Bishop Baker fostered the Salisbury Diocese’s strong links with Sudan and made several visits there.

He was the first non-Catholic to preach in a Catholic cathedral in Ireland and visited Maze Prison.

Closer to home he kept up a busy schedule of visits to local schools and organisations, and was known for his dedication to providing pastoral care.

He was also concerned about “depravity” and drug use in Salisbury, once saying “those who argue the merits of legalising cannabis only help pushers” while deploring “the decadent upsurge of vice”.

He founded John Baker House, in Rollestone Street, which provides supported living accommodation for people in need.

Born in Birmingham on January 11, 1928, Bishop Baker studied at Oriel College Oxford and Cuddesdon Theological College.

He taught and wrote a number of publications, including The Foolishness of God, before becoming rector of St Margaret’s Church Westminster and chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Bishop Baker suffered from heart problems – although that did not stop him from climbing the cathedral’s spire in 1983 – and retired as Bishop of Salisbury in 1993, being replaced by the Rt Rev David Stancliffe.

In retirement he became an honorary assistant bishop in Winchester Diocese, where he was a valued preacher and lecturer, and wrote a number of books on the Christian faith.

Bishop Baker died on Wednesday, June 4.

He is survived by his wife, whom he married in Westminster Abbey in 1974.

Bishop Baker’s funeral will take place at St Cross, Winchester at 11.30am on Tuesday, June 24 and a memorial service will be held at Salisbury Cathedral on Friday, September 5 followed by the interment of his ashes in the Cloister green.