If reports of Lord Lucan’s discovery in Western Australia prove positive then it could be the scoop of the century – albeit the last century.
While millennials everywhere may be scratching their heads as to what all the fuss is about, the discovery of Lord “lucky” Lucan’s whereabouts after 45 years on the run would be a newspaper coup.
Arguably it would be the solving of the last great Fleet Street mystery.
According to the front page report in today’s Daily Mirror, the peer – who vanished in November 1974 after the murder of the family’s nanny Sandra Rivett at their house in Belgravia – has been found living pseudonymously in a suburb of Perth. He’s also converted to Buddhism.
Neil Berriman, the son of Rivett, has spent years trying to find the man suspected of killing his mother.
He told the newspaper: “I believe I have tracked down the man, Lord Lucan, who murdered my mother. He has been alive all this time. Lying about who he is. Lying about it to his new friends.”
Berriman, 52, has taken his findings to Scotland Yard’s Cold Case Unit, which has confirmed to reporters that the unsolved case is still “open”.
Berriman added: “The people he lives with know he has a mystery past and what he tells them does not add up. They have had their suspicions for many years. They are fully aware he is a mystery elderly Englishman and not who he is claiming to be.”
Since his disappearance there have been numerous sightings of Richard Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, who was a notorious gambler and part of the Clermont Set which met at the Clermont Club on Berkeley Square in Mayfair.
This set included Sir James Goldsmith, one of the spiritual fathers of Brexit, who fanned speculation that Lucan’s wealthy friends had helped spirit him away. The last known trace of the earl was the discovery, hours after the attack, of his blood-stained car at Newhaven, Sussex.
The sightings have poured in ever since – and the peer’s front page appearances have been growing.
Among the best was the 2003 claim by former Met drug squad officer Duncan MacLaughlin that Lucan had been living in Goa, India, for 20 years as a musician.
In his book The Lucan Conspiracy, MacLaughlin asserted that the fugitive earl was now an unemployed busker nicknamed Jungle Barry. At the time Lady Lucan dismissed the widely-reported claims as “utterly absurd”.
In 2007 the world’s press descended on the small town of Marton, New Zealand, where an Englishman named Roger Woodgate, who lived in a Land Rover with a goat named Camilla (the name of Lucan’s daughter), had been identified as the peer.
In 2012, the Mirror ran a story asserting that Lucan’s younger brother Hugh Bingham was “sure” the fugitive peer was living in Africa. Asked if he thought his brother had fled to the continent, Bingham replied: “I’m sure he did, yes. But what the connection is I don’t know.”
Then in 2016, there were reports of a sighting of the earl drinking in a bar in Botswana. British engineer Lawrie Prebble (then 71) declared: “There had been talk for weeks that Lucan was around – he had links to Botswana. The instant he walked in I said to myself: ‘That’s him.'”
A follow-up of sorts came last September when Hugh Bingham, living in South Africa (in a suburb of Johannesburg), died.
The Mail asked: “Have Lord Lucan’s secrets died with his brother?” It then answered its question noting that his death was “sparking speculation he may reveal details about what became of his notorious sibling from beyond the grave”. We’re still waiting.
When I wrote a story about the engagement of Lucan’s daughter Lady Camilla in 1998 in the Daily Telegraph – it made the cover, above the fold, along with a photograph of the fiancé – I naturally put a call in to Scotland Yard.
Would they be sending any detectives along to the wedding to look out for suspicious characters? No comment, but as with the latest sightings, I was assured that case remained open and that the earl was a suspect – even though he was technically dead.
Since then Lucan has been declared dead twice – first in 1999 and then again in 2016, after which his son George took the title, becoming the eighth earl.
Nonetheless, despite the passing of the years, and even life, apparently, the story doesn’t die. For a dead man, Lucan really does get around.
So, let’s consider it, what if this elderly English Buddhist is him, as fantastic as it may seem? It would all be over… and with Qantas now offering direct flights from London to Perth we oughtn’t have long to wait too long for the next instalment. Could a tell-all confession be just days away?
The historian Peter Hennessy said that Britain was stuck in the thirties until the sixties, and he had point.
In a similar way, this is one story where the British press have themselves been stuck in the 1970s, obsessed by a rather glamorous crime story that in itself tugged on the coat tails of the 1950s – back when lords were lords, and deference was for other people.
But for all that this is time warp journalism, for all that it’s journalism that leaves your fingertips just a little bit grubby from newsprint, it is a great story. It’s a scoop with class.
Even so it’s probably in everyone’s interest if it is him this time. Aside from the individuals involved, we could all do with moving on. Britain’s news media included.
Alec Marsh is editor of Spear’s Magazine and author of Rule Britannia.