DOMINIC LAWSON: Hunting Lord Lucan remains a national obsession

Lord Lucan is alive! Or so claims a building contractor called Neil Berriman. And why should we listen to Mr Berriman? Well, he is the son of Sandra Rivett, the Lucan family nanny, whom in November 1974 the 7th Earl allegedly bludgeoned to death, mistaking her — in a darkened room — for the wife he had come to hate.

This was not acceptable behaviour, even among the decadent English aristocracy. Lucan fled, and while he is believed to have thrown himself into the English Channel from a Newhaven ferry a few days later, his body has never been found.

The appetite for claims to have discovered the missing Earl in various remote spots has never since abated. Berriman, who as a baby had been given up for adoption by the unmarried Rivett, says he has spent years (and £30,000) looking for his mother's murderer — and insists he has located Lucan, who would now be 85, 'living as a Buddhist in Australia'.

Lord Lucan (pictured) is alive! Or so claims a building contractor called Neil Berriman. And why should we listen to Mr Berriman?

Lord Lucan (pictured) is alive! Or so claims a building contractor called Neil Berriman. And why should we listen to Mr Berriman? 

Hippy

Berriman has passed on to the Metropolitan Police the address of the man, along with what he claims are the 'eight aliases' used by the alleged fugitive from justice. Scotland Yard responded: 'The inquiry into the death of Sandra Rivett remains open, as is the case with all unsolved murders. Any significant new information will be considered.'

I'm not sure Berriman's story is 'significant new information' — there seems no evidence, let alone photographs, to back up his account. But I can hardly blame the Daily Mirror for covering their front page with a picture of the missing Earl, alongside the headline: 'Victim's son: I've tracked down Lord Lucan.'

The reason I can't blame them is that as the editor of the Sunday Telegraph in 2003, I published at great length and prominence the account of a former member of the Met's central drugs squad, Duncan MacLaughlin, who claimed to have proved that Lucan had ended up in a sort of hippy commune in Goa, under the assumed name of Barry Halpin, becoming known as 'Jungle Barry'.

Sandra Rivett (pictured), the Lucan family nanny, whom in November 1974 the 7th Earl allegedly bludgeoned to death, mistaking her ¿ in a darkened room ¿ for the wife he had come to hate

Sandra Rivett (pictured), the Lucan family nanny, whom in November 1974 the 7th Earl allegedly bludgeoned to death, mistaking her — in a darkened room — for the wife he had come to hate

Ended up, literally: 'Barry Halpin' had, as the ex-cop related, died in 1996 — marked by an obituary notice from friends in the local paper under the line 'Goodbye, old cock'. Not very 7th Earl. But MacLaughlin had written an entire book to back up his claims, entitled Dead Lucky. Lord Lucan: The Final Truth.

On the cover was a photo of 'Barry Halpin' sitting on a rocking chair in his Goanese retreat, looking, both in dress and in the extent of his beard, more like Robinson Crusoe than anyone else.

But MacLaughlin claimed to have testimonies from 'facial reconstruction experts' to show that these were indeed — that is, Lucan and Halpin — the same man: the former cop's killer point (so to speak) was that 'neither man had earlobes'. 

Berriman (pictured), who as a baby had been given up for adoption by the unmarried Rivett, says he has spent years (and £30,000) looking for his mother's murderer

Berriman (pictured), who as a baby had been given up for adoption by the unmarried Rivett, says he has spent years (and £30,000) looking for his mother's murderer 

Gotcha! The publisher of MacLaughlin's book, who came to see me in my office, admitted he had been turned down by the News of the World, on the pettifogging grounds that they did not believe any of it. So I could have the scoop and serialisation for a mere £5,000. I rather shared the view of the editors of that now-defunct red-top Sunday paper. On the other hand, I found the whole business gripping. So I signed up.

But the words I ran above the masthead of the Sunday Telegraph — alongside the photo which the missing earl might indeed have looked like if he'd spent more than 20 years of solid boozing in a tropical hippy commune — were: 'Is this Lord Lucan?'

I reassured myself that a question could never be untrue, and waited for the reaction. It was instant and spectacular. Sky ran live news feeds from outside Lady Lucan's home. She told the channel: 'It's unutterably boring. I could never imagine my husband looking so pathetic.'

That was more grist to the mill: our sales ran at tens of thousands above normal levels. Leading bookshops immediately contacted the delighted publisher with colossal buying orders.

John Stonehouse (pictured), the fugitive Labour MP who was arrested by the police in Australia, under the impression that he was Lord Lucan

John Stonehouse (pictured), the fugitive Labour MP who was arrested by the

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