Published: 10:00, 30 January 2016
Infamous fugitive Lord Lucan shot himself before being fed to a tiger at Howletts zoo, it has been claimed.
The Daily Mail today reports the startling account of Phillippe Marcq, who says he was trusted with the true story behind the peer’s disappearance in 1974.
Lucan’s whereabouts have remained a mystery since he vanished without trace after reportedly bludgeoning the family nanny to death, apparently mistaking her for his wife.
Hundreds of theories on the 39-year-old peer’s fate have been put forward in the four decades since, but few are as shocking as that laid out by Mr Marcq.
Now 73 and living in Wiltshire, he says he was standing in the corner of the Clermont Club in London when fellow stockbroker Stephen Raphael told him what had happened to Lucan.
The pair knew Lucan better than most, regularly facing him across the backgammon table at the exclusive Mayfair gaming club.
Mr Raphael was one of Lucan’s closest friends, his wife a godmother to one of Lucan’s three children.
Mr Marcq claims that Mr Raphael told him that in the early hours of the morning after the murder, Lucan had travelled to Howletts in Bekesbourne, near Canterbury.
The zoo was owned by his close friend, John Aspinall, founder of the Clermont Club.
It was said friends gathered there and told Lucan that committing the heinous crime would see him lose contact with his children for good, with his wife Veronica winning custody and the family trust as well.
Lucan needed to disappear, they said, because without a body or proof of death probate could not be granted on his estate for at least seven years.
By this time his children would be old enough to take control of their own affairs.
Mr Marcq said: “They told him ‘Look, it is absolutely terrible what happened. You are a murderer. You tried to kill your wife out of desperation for your children and so they would be free from her influence.
“But what you have done makes absolutely sure she will be in control of your children for years to come — you are a murderer and you are going to be in a cell for the next 30 years.
“They told him ‘It is totally unrealistic for you to go away and live abroad, you will be caught and brought back in chains’.
“But you can achieve a similar result by disappearing.
"He was telling me very seriously and him telling me was a sign of considerable trust. I felt sworn to secrecy. It was a secret I could not betray — and, until now, I have not...." - Phillippe Marcq
“Because if you disappear, they won’t open the probate for seven years and in seven years your children will be of age.”’
He says Mr Raphael told him that a pistol was placed in front of Lucan, who picked it up and then went to another room, where a gunshot was heard.
The body, he says, was then fed to a tiger named Zorra.
“Obviously, I was stunned when he told me this — stunned,” Mr Marcq told the Daily Mail.
But at the same time, he says knowing those involved he could understand their logic at the time.
“However grim it may be, however terrifying that he is going to commit suicide, he is going to do it not out of despair, not because he gave up everything, but to achieve a positive result,” he said.
“This suicide will achieve indirectly what he failed to do by attempting to murder his wife.
“It is tough, but in a way it shows a kind of British, totally unsentimental, pragmatic approach to what was an unqualified disaster.”
Belgian-born Mr Marcq says he has decided to share his story as it is finally time for the “truth” to be known.
Today a procedural hearing took place at the High Court and decided a death certificate should finally be issued for Lord Lucan.
It allows his son, George, now Lord Bingham, to adopt his father’s title, and with it the infamous name of Lucan.
At a preliminary hearing before Christmas, it was claimed in court that a member of Lucan’s gambling set had contacted a private detective to tell him he had evidence Lucan took his own life soon after the murder.
The Daily Mail says the information referred to came from Mr Marcq.
“I want to put the story to rest once and for all,” he told the paper.
“I don’t think I will necessarily achieve that, but I will try.
“I believed what he [Mr Raphael] told me 100%. He was telling me very seriously and him telling me was a sign of considerable trust.
“I felt sworn to secrecy. It was a secret I could not betray — and, until now, I have not.”
Mr Marcq’s claims are as outlandish as any of the other theories surrounding Lucan’s disappearance.
And with none of the principal players still alive, it makes it impossible to seek corroboration.
The available evidence is also contrary, the Daily Mail says.
Not long after the murder, police interviewed Aspinall’s mother, Lady Osborne.
"I think Lord Lucan is dead. The police say it is too difficult for a man to dispose of his own body, but my own feeling is that he has done so...." - Stephen Raphael
Asked about Lucan, she reportedly told them: “The last I heard of him, he was being fed to the tigers at my son’s zoo.”
Police are said to have subsequently descended on Howletts, where Aspinall told them: “My tigers are only fed the choicest cuts — do you really think they’re going to eat stringy old Lucky?”
A year after the killing, Mr Raphael told the Daily Mail: “I think Lord Lucan is dead. The police say it is too difficult for a man to dispose of his own body, but my own feeling is that he has done so.”
But in 1981 he said: “I think he’s alive. I saw him the night before the murder for dinner at the Clermont Club. We were discussing going to California to play in a private backgammon tournament.”
As for Aspinall, a week on from the murder he told ITV News At Ten: “I find it difficult to imagine him in Brazil or Haiti as a fugitive.
“I don’t think he has the capacity to adapt. He is a man of enormous virtue and honour. He could rely on many friends to help with advice.”
He later said he believed Lucan had tied a stone around his body and drowned himself.