The trial of a 60-year-old man from Minchinhampton on assault charges could not go ahead at Gloucester crown court yesterday because the judge was missing.

Efforts were made to contact Judge Michael Harington by phone but they were unsuccessful and after two hours the case of Peter Covey had to be adjourned till today. A jury panel also had to be sent home.

A different judge, Recorder Paul Grumbar, was called in at short notice to take charge of the case.

Old Etonian Judge Harington, who lives in the North Cotswolds, is a regular in the civil courts in Gloucester and also presides over criminal cases at the crown court several times a year.

Worried staff who could not locate him wondered if he had got mixed up about his holiday dates. He is due on leave next week but they thought he may have thought it was this week.

However, as concern mounted the mystery was solved - Judge Harington was in London for a two week course unaware that his time had somehow been double booked.

Mr Covey is charged with attacking two men while armed with a spade on parkland outside his home on August 23 last year.

He is said to have assaulted Michael Vaughan and Desmond Meredith, causing them bodily harm.

The prosecution also allege that Mr Covey was in possession of an offensive weapon, namely a spade, on the same day.

Earlier, when the judge's whereabouts were still unknown at midday, the presiding Gloucester judge, Ian Lawrie QC told Mr Covey “We have a problem. We are missing a judge.

“We are a little concerned. He is not answering his phone.”

Judge Lawrie said the case would have to be adjourned to the following morning, as a substitute judge had been identified who could take the case then.

Nick Fridd, the barrister representing Mr Covey, said to Judge Lawrie: “Judge Harington and I went to college together. I would be most distressed if something has happened to him.”