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Was Lord Lucan Really Fed to a Tiger - Or Is It Yet Another Cover-Up?

02/02/2016 12:42 GMT | Updated 01/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Over the years, I have come across many bizarre theories about what might have happened to the 7th Earl of Lucan - and of these, far and away the most eye-popping is the story that he was fed to John Aspinall's tiger.

This hoary old story re-emerged again at the weekend and its juicy details are just as enthralling now as when I first heard them 30 years ago; they are well worth the re-telling.

However, as with all stories that pertain to Britain's most notorious fugitive, all eye-witness accounts should be taken with a lorry-load of salt.

I go further: Lucan's friends and family would much, much prefer it if Lucan was dead. It's easier for everyone if the accepted truth is that Lucan committed suicide 41 years ago, shortly after he botched his wife's murder and killed the nanny.

He's dead, folks - nothing to see here! He's been dead since 1974 and this story is well and truly over.

Well... It's a view.

And if I may, I'd like to offer an alternative view. I should perhaps mention that over the last decade I have become something of a specialist on Lord Lucan, and have even ghosted his memoirs, Lord Lucan: My Story. (The tale of Lucan being fed to the tiger gets a passing mention on Page 13).

Now I'm not saying that the latest witness to come forward is a liar - dear me no!

What I am saying is that the two people who first promulgated the idea that Lucan killed himself were those multi-millionaire scoundrels John Aspinall (father of Damian) and Jimmy Goldsmith (father of London mayoral candidate Zac, as well as Jemima and sundry others.)

And therefore: Goldsmith and Aspinall may - perhaps, just possibly - have been telling the truth about Lord Lucan and that he did indeed blow his brains out. But it's far, far more likely that, as ever, Goldsmith and Aspinall were just spreading misinformation. Muddying the waters. That's what this unholy pair of rogues were born to do - and it is what they spent their lives doing.

But first though, and since it is such a great story, let us take a look at the deliciously grisly details of Lucan and Zorra the tiger.

The story was revealed (again) over the weekend, after one of Lord Lucan's gambling cronies, Philippe Marcq, came out of the woodwork. Interestingly, for us sceptics who think that Lucan could still be live, Marcq never actually witnessed the events that took place.

Rather, he heard the story from one of his old mates, Stephen Raphael. That rather tends to be the way of things with these Lucan stories - it's all hearsay from people who are dead.

According to Marcq, soon after Lord Lucan had killed his children's nanny, Sandra Rivett, he sought refuge with his old friend John Aspinall. [This is also described at some length in Lord Lucan: My Story. Spooky how I could have been so on the money, eh? Or perhaps I myself had my own secret sources.]

Aspinall called in a few friends, including Raphael, for a council of war at Howletts, his magnificent home in Kent.

There, or so it is claimed, Lucan admits murdering Sandra. He's also very worried that his estranged wife Veronica will get custody of not just the three children but also his estate.

There's only one way through this thicket of problems - and that would be for Lucan to kill himself and disappear. With no proof of death, Lucan's estate would be tied up for at least the next seven years, by which time, Lucan's children would be adults and capable enough of making their own decisions.

A pistol is brought out and Lucan is urged to go and do the decent thing.

What a seductive image: Lucan, alone in Aspinall's study, with a bottle of whisky and (I like to think) a pearl-handled revolver. He takes a slug of whisky, and another slug and when he's done he puts the pistol into his mouth and pulls the trigger.

It was now apparently up to Aspinall to complete the second part of the plan and properly dispose of the body. Of course he could have just buried the body somewhere on the Howletts estate, but it would undoubtedly have appealed to Aspinall's sense of the macabre to have fed Lucan to Zorra the tiger. (What did he do with the head? Do tigers eat human heads - or did Aspinall use the top of the skull as a serving dish for his caviar?)

One thing we do know for a fact is that Aspinall was later quizzed by police about the tiger theory - and told them with his usual chutzpah: "My tigers are only fed the choicest cuts - do you really think they're going to eat stringy old Lucky?"

What a terrific story! I'm not surprised it got such a good airing over the weekend.

Let me now play devil's advocate.

Far from feeding Lucan to the tigers, Aspinall (and probably Goldsmith) helped Lucan flee the country. The pair had the money and also the low-life contacts to not just whisk Lucan out to Africa, but then to set him up with a new face and a new life.

And knowing what we do about Aspinall, he would have relished helping Lucan to escape. Let us not forget that Aspinall's entire fortune was made by cheating Britain's bluebloods at his bent casinos; he loved nothing more than thumbing his nose at the police and the British establishment.

Of course that's all just theory - but this theory, how ever arcane, is at least supported by a small amount of corroborative evidence. Not that we have much to go on, but all the details that have emerged over the last four decades indicate that Lucan got away. More than that: they indicate that Lucan did indeed manage to re-invent himself. Why - Lucan would only be 81 today and, if he has mastered the wonders of the internet, could even now be reading this story. [Morning Lucky - how we doing?]

There are witnesses, credible witnesses, who saw Lucan being flown out of England in a private aircraft. We have a witness who arranged for Lucan's children to go on safari, where their dear old dad could watch them from afar through his binoculars. And, rather bizarrely, we have Lucan's old watch turning up in a pawnbrokers in South Africa.

As for the theory that Lucan committed suicide, the only evidence we have is dead men's words and the fact that he hasn't been seen since 1974.

Who knows, who knows - but that is why the Lord Lucan mystery continues to entice. Absolutely anything is possible - including, even, the simply unbelievable idea that Zorra the tiger had him for breakfast.