TRIBUTES have been pouring in for award-winning News Group press photographer Phil Loach.

Known for his professionalism and precise images, Phil was one of the most respected press photographers in the region who won a host of awards throughout his 45-year career.

Although retired from journalism, he still enjoyed taking and exhibiting his own images – collections of which were displayed at a number of exhibitions at venues including Himley Hall, the Black Country Living Museum and Dudley Canal Trust.

He had also been looking forward to having a book of his images published by Café Royal Books this autumn.

Having been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, however, around 16 months ago - he contracted pneumonia and passed away at Hereford County Hospital on Wednesday April 12, aged 73.

Stourbridge News: Award-winning photographer Phil LoachAward-winning photographer Phil Loach (Image: Phil Loach)

News of his sudden death has left friends and family in shock, with many rushing to pay tribute to the “remarkable cameraman” and “inspirational newsroom character” who will be sorely missed.

Born in Kates Hill, Dudley, and educated at the Sir Gilbert Claughton School, Stourbridge College of Art and Leicester College of Art, where he studied photography, Phil began his career in newspapers on the Dudley Herald.

He later moved to the County Express in Stourbridge, where he became chief photographer, before spending several years as a freelancer.

Afterwards he joined the News Group at Stourbridge – where he spent the last 20 years of his career taking pictures for Newsquest’s Stourbridge, Halesowen and Dudley News titles, and later also for the Kidderminster Shuttle and Bromsgrove and Redditch Advertiser newspapers.

Over the years he photographed a diverse array of events and people across the Black Country, north Worcestershire and south Staffordshire.

Stourbridge News: Princess Grace Kelly captured on camera by Phil Loach during a visit to Hagley HallPrincess Grace Kelly captured on camera by Phil Loach during a visit to Hagley Hall (Image: Phil Loach)

He captured everything from sporting events to visits by celebrities, Royalty and politicians (from John Inman to Grace Kelly to Tony Blair) to ordinary people enjoying joyful celebrations and those hit by terrible tragedies.

READ MORE: Shock as former press photographer dies suddenly

Alan Worrall, former deputy editor of the County Express newspaper, led tributes, saying: "I worked alongside Phil for more than 30 years. He was a big man in every respect - always full of energy and enthusiasm.

Stourbridge News: Phil Loach pictured in his younger days at the old County Express newspaperPhil Loach pictured in his younger days at the old County Express newspaper (Image: Alan Worrall)

“He was a remarkable cameraman who had the rare knack of always being in the right place at the right time.

“He could be depended upon to produce brilliant pictures which illustrated events or incidents with eye-catching clarity.”

Phil’s former editor Jeff Jephcott at the News Group also paid tribute, adding: “I had the pleasure of working with Phil for many years as his editor.

“Apart from being one hell of a guy and a friend, Phil was a first-class photographer.

“Phil always managed to find the perfect news photo from any situation. He took a great pride in his work - whether it be news or sports coverage. He would bring me his pictures and present like pieces of art - which they were.

“He also had considerable success in exhibiting his work.

“The newspaper industry has lost a great cameraman and I've lost a truly professional workmate and friend.”

Stourbridge News: Cows by the Round Oak Steelworks in Brierley HillCows by the Round Oak Steelworks in Brierley Hill (Image: Phil Loach)

Fellow photographer Miriam Balfry, who worked alongside Phil at Newsquest for 18 years, said: “My heart is broken at the news of Phil’s passing.

“He was my mentor, a truly exceptional photographer and a good friend.

“When I first started working at the newspaper, I was in awe of him – I still am. He never treated me as anything other than his equal. He said he wasn’t my boss, even though secretly I regarded him as such. He was generous with his time, advice and a good listener.

“He put everyone at ease from celebrities to everyday people. He had a natural gift for bringing the best out in people.

“His legacy will live on in all his pictures that tell of a life well lived with fun, laughter and love for his family.”

Stourbridge News: The 1992 Dudley ShowThe 1992 Dudley Show (Image: Phil Loach)

Former news reporter Louise Jew, who met Phil in 1973 when she started work at the old Country Express, added: “He was a true legend - an amazing photographer and such good fun to be with.”

Newsquest sub editor Pete Wallace described Phil as “a quite brilliant photographer, inspirational newsroom character, but most of all, a good friend of 35 years”.

Freelance photographer Lisa Bedi added: “He was an amazing photographer who I always looked up to and learned so much from. I loved his wit and sense of humour. He will be missed.”

While journalist Adam Smith recalled spending “many a happy hour chatting with Phil” while working at the Halesowen News and he said: “As well as being a brilliant local news photographer, he had a great artistic eye too.”

Phil, who lived in Tenbury Wells, leaves a wife of almost 25 years – Dot, son Ben and daughter-in-law Jenny, and two grandchildren - Toby, aged 17, and Charlotte, 13.