Britain's Lord Lucan declared dead, four decades after murder mystery

LONDON (AFP) - A British judge declared the infamous Lord Lucan officially dead on Wednesday (Feb 3), four decades after he disappeared following the murder of the family's nanny in a lurid tale that has gripped Britain.

"The court must make the declaration that is sought on this case," judge Sarah Asplin told a court in London following an application by Lord Lucan's son George Bingham, who officially becomes the 8th Earl of Lucan.

Mr Bingham, 48, launched a High Court bid to obtain a death certificate for his father last year, bringing to an end one chapter in a story still full of unanswered questions that revolves around London high society of the 1970s and its gambling underworld.

"I am very happy with the judgement of the court in this matter. It has been a very long time coming," Mr Bingham told reporters after the hearing.

"I got married this year. I've started a new branch in my career. It was a nice moment to say farewell to a very distant past and to move on at a very personal level," he said.

"Our family has no idea how our own father met his own end. Whether he did so at his own hand or at the hand of others.

"It's a mystery and it may well remain that way forever."

Mystery has shrouded the whereabouts of Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, since he vanished at the age of 39 after his children's nanny, Sandra Rivett, was bludgeoned to death in 1974 at the London home of Lord Lucan's estranged wife.

An inquest into the murder raised the theory that Lord Lucan may have mistaken the nanny for Lady Lucan, who said she fought with the attacker in the dark after she heard noises in the basement.

The case sparked worldwide interest after his blood-soaked car was found abandoned near the coast, and since then there have been dozens of supposed sightings of him from southern Africa to New Zealand.

Bizarre conspiracy theories abound, with one of Lord Lucan's old gambling friends claiming last week that he committed suicide and was then fed to a tiger in a zoo to avoid leaving proof of death and handing his estate over to estranged wife Veronica.

Public interest in the story has been fed by tales of the playboy lifestyle of Lord Lucan, an inveterate gambler, in London high society at the time and the fact that several of his wealthy friends have kept silent on the story.

Police issued a warrant for his arrest a few days after the murder.

Mr Bingham, who is set to inherit the title of Lord Bingham, Earl of Lucan, began the legal process last October by posting a public notice in a local newspaper. He has said the death certificate would "bring closure".

He recently married Ms Anne-Sofie Foghsgaard, the daughter of a wealthy Danish industrialist.

But Mr Neil Berriman, the murdered nanny's biological son, told AFP he was "shocked" to hear of Mr Bingham's application. He initially lodged an objection, which he has since withdrawn.

"I thought about objecting straight away," he said. "I think he was selfish saying he wanted closure but seemed to have forgotten about everybody else.

"Closure for us is when we can actually get closure for Sandra," he added. "To find out whether Lord Lucan did commit the murder or if he got somebody else to do it."

Mr Berriman, who was put up for adoption at birth, only found out he was Ms Rivett's son when his adoptive mother died and left him a brown envelope, which he opened eight years ago.

"It was full of all-sorts of things, birthday cards and cuttings of the Lucan case, which was very bizarre," he told AFP.

"I sat there and it gradually registered. It was horrendous, things haven't been the same since."

Referring to Mr Bingham, the 48-year-old builder told reporters after the ruling: "It is fantastic and I'm very pleased for him."