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Confirmation of alien life ‘now seems inevitable’ claims researcher

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Milky way rising behind Radio Telescope Observatory
Radio telescopes are used to scan the cosmos for alien signals (Getty Images)

A researcher from the University of Melbourne in Australia believes that finding extra-terrestrial life isn’t just inevitable – but possibly ‘imminent’.

Writing in The Conversation, Cathal O’Connell, explains that while the formation of life involves some complex chemistry, the elements involved are ‘nothing special’.

‘Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and so on are among the most abundant elements in the universe. Complex organic chemistry is surprisingly common,’ he wrote.

‘Based on this catalogue, astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley worked out there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized exoplanets in the so-called “habitable zone” around their star, where temperatures are mild enough for liquid water to exist on the surface.’

‘It seems inevitable other life is out there, especially considering that life appeared on Earth so soon after the planet was formed.’

O’Connell points out that a hunt for aliens has moved well beyond the realms of fiction towards actual progressive science. Nasa has a space satellite – known as TESS – that is tasked with identifying planets outside of our solar system.

Conceptual image of a group of aliens
Although life involves complex chemistry, the elements involved aren’t rare (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

And in November last year, Professor Emeritus William Romoser, an entomologist from Ohio University, published a report suggesting there was life on Mars.

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He said images captured by Nasa’s Mars rovers clearly show ‘fossilised and living creatures’ on the Red Planet’s surface.

‘There has been and still is life on Mars,’ Romoser said. ‘There is apparent diversity among the Martian insect-like fauna which display many features similar to Terran insects that are interpreted as advanced groups – for example, the presence of wings, wing flexion, agile gliding/flight, and variously structured leg elements.’

He said the rovers have snapped pictures which ‘clearly depict the insect- and reptile-like forms’.

While the report received widespread media attention, his claims were dismissed as personal speculation based on an interpretation of the evidence.

This composite self portrait of Opportunity, NASA's longest-running rover on Mars - which has been pronounced dead 15 years after it landed on the red planet - was taken on Vera Rubin Ridge by a camera on the end of the rover's robotic arm. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday February 14, 2019. The six-wheeled vehicle was built to operate for just three months, but it kept going and going until it was finally doomed by a ferocious dust storm eight months ago. See PA story SPACE Mars. Photo credit should read: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/PA Wire
This is a composite self portrait of Opportunity, NASA’s longest-running rover on Mars (PA)

Regardless, O’Connell explained that if alien life was discovered it would turn our understanding of biology ‘upside down’.

‘All life on Earth is related, descended ultimately from the first living cell to emerge some 4 billion years ago,’ he wrote.

‘Bacteria, fungus, cacti and cockroaches are all our cousins and we all share the same basic molecular machinery: DNA that makes RNA, and RNA that makes protein.

‘A second sample of life, though, might represent a “second genesis” – totally unrelated to us. Perhaps it would use a different coding system in its DNA. Or it might not have DNA at all, but some other method of passing on genetic information.

‘By studying a second example of life, we could begin to figure out which parts of the machinery of life are universal, and which are just the particular accidents of our primordial soup.’

Nasa is planning a return to Mars in 2020 to examine the planet in even more detail and possibly uncover if ever there was life on the planet and whether it could one day support it again.

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Disaster experts are deployed to Aboriginal Queensland town of Aurukun after a huge riot

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Upheaval in the Queensland town of Aurukun has been so violent about 300 people have left and the government is sending in disaster response experts.

Riots triggered by an alleged murder almost a month ago has seen more than one fifth of the 1400-strong town flee to other communities throughout Cape York.

During a 15-hour rampage, rioters wielded spears, star pickets, axes and bows and arrows as they went house-to-house looking for relatives of two teens charged with killing a 37-year man. 

Far North Queensland police office Duane Amos and Tracey Harding, who has worked on community recovery efforts following floods and cyclones, have been called in as response co-ordinators.

They will work alongside former Aurukun Shire Council CEO Gary Kleidon, who was called in to co-ordinate the response about a week after violence broke out.

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Disaster experts have been deployed to Aboriginal town in far north Queensland after a 15-hour riot saw eight homes set alight (pictured) at Aurukun on the Cape York Peninsula

Disaster experts have been deployed to Aboriginal town in far north Queensland after a 15-hour riot saw eight homes set alight (pictured) at Aurukun on the Cape York Peninsula

Disaster experts have been deployed to Aboriginal town in far north Queensland after a 15-hour riot saw eight homes set alight (pictured) at Aurukun on the Cape York Peninsula 

The government says it is working to return the troubled town to ‘normality, calm and healing’.

Additional police have been sent to Aurukun where they have been rostered on 24 hours a day to maintain calm in the town. 

The marauders sought vengeance during the rampage as they tried to force their way into the local medical centre, stormed the airport and torched eight homes.

About 250 residents fearing further reprisals fled Aurukun, with 130 heading six hours’ west to Coen, while others travelled to nearby communities including Hope Vale, Kowanyama, Laura, Mapoon, Napranum and Pormpuraaw. 

More than 100 other refugees sought shelter in a bush camp being run by former soldiers 80km outside the township where they were still hiding out.

Some have since returned, but others say there is no future for them in Aurukun. 

‘These are innocent people frightened for their lives,’ a support worker told AAP on the condition of anonymity.

‘No one wants to speak out, otherwise they will be targeted.’

Hundreds of armed residents, some drunk on sly grog, rampaged through Aurukun on New Year's Day seeking revenge over the fatal stabbing of a clan member. Pictured is one of the houses destroyed by arsonists

Hundreds of armed residents, some drunk on sly grog, rampaged through Aurukun on New Year's Day seeking revenge over the fatal stabbing of a clan member. Pictured is one of the houses destroyed by arsonists

Hundreds of armed residents, some drunk on sly grog, rampaged through Aurukun on New Year’s Day seeking revenge over the fatal stabbing of a clan member. Pictured is one of the houses destroyed by arsonists  

Footage of women brawling in front of police officers at Aurukun emerged in 2016. Videos showed young women in the township swinging punches at each other as onlookers filmed. There is no suggestion anyone pictured was involved in the New Year's Day riot

Footage of women brawling in front of police officers at Aurukun emerged in 2016. Videos showed young women in the township swinging punches at each other as onlookers filmed. There is no suggestion anyone pictured was involved in the New Year's Day riot

Footage of women brawling in front of police officers at Aurukun emerged in 2016. Videos showed young women in the township swinging punches at each other as onlookers filmed. There is no suggestion anyone pictured was involved in the New Year’s Day riot

Aurukun (pronounced Arra-koon) is a former Presbyterian mission with a population of 1,269 at the last Census. It is on the eastern side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, 829km north-west of Cairns.

Most of its residents are members of the Wik and Wik Way peoples and come from five clans: the Chara, Winchanam, Apalech, Puutch and Wanam groups. 

Fifty to 60 families are split into two factions known as ‘top end’ and ‘bottom end’ based on where they live in the township. Trouble occurs along those factional lines.

Inter-clan tensions which go back generations have contributed to previous riots in Aurukun in 2007, 2013 and 2015. 

In previous riots the police station has been attacked and gunfire kept scared residents indoors. In 2016 the township became so violent the local school was temporarily closed down.

While it could be famed for its spectacular regional scenery Aurukun has become better known for YouTube videos of local women fighting in the street while police watch on. 

In 2007 it gained international headlines when nine boys and men aged from 13 to 25 avoided jail after pleading guilty to the repeated rape of a 10-year-old girl.

Townspeople from Aurukun are pictured at a makeshift camp run by the Kapani Warriors group about 80km from their home. About 250 residents fled Aurukun after a New Year's Day riot

Townspeople from Aurukun are pictured at a makeshift camp run by the Kapani Warriors group about 80km from their home. About 250 residents fled Aurukun after a New Year's Day riot

Townspeople from Aurukun are pictured at a makeshift camp run by the Kapani Warriors group about 80km from their home. About 250 residents fled Aurukun after a New Year’s Day riot

Several dozen indigenous families from five clans are split into two factions called the 'top end' and 'bottom end' at Aurukun (pictured).  Inter-clan tensions which go back generations have contributed to previous riots in 2007, 2013 and 2015.

Several dozen indigenous families from five clans are split into two factions called the 'top end' and 'bottom end' at Aurukun (pictured).  Inter-clan tensions which go back generations have contributed to previous riots in 2007, 2013 and 2015.

Several dozen indigenous families from five clans are split into two factions called the ‘top end’ and ‘bottom end’ at Aurukun (pictured).  Inter-clan tensions which go back generations have contributed to previous riots in 2007, 2013 and 2015.

At that time about 10 per cent of the township’s inhabitants were on parole or under court supervision orders, with just as many in juvenile detention centres and jails. 

As part of the latest violent flare-up a 17-year-old youth and an 18-year-old man have been charged with murder and extra police have been deployed. 

As it evolved there was up to 200 to 250 people wandering around the streets of Aurukun – all armed, all aggressive…

Investigators have charged 27 others with 118 offences since the riot. Twelve of those people have been charged with arson.  

Police will allege the teens charged with murder were involved in a New Year’s Day altercation with the 37-year-old man which led to him being stabbed in the abdomen.  

Superintendent Geoff Sheldon, assistant district officer of Queensland’s Far North District, said the wounded man was taken to Aurukun’s medical clinic about 4pm on January 1.

He was already unconscious and resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. About 60 people soon turned up at the clinic armed with makeshift weapons including bricks, lengths of timber and metal bars.

‘Police attended and were able to repel a quite full-on entry attempt into the clinic and keep people safe there,’ Superintendent Sheldon told reporters.

Aurukun, a former Presbyterian mission with a population of 1.269 at the last Census, is on the eastern side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, 829km north-west of Cairns

Aurukun, a former Presbyterian mission with a population of 1.269 at the last Census, is on the eastern side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, 829km north-west of Cairns

Aurukun, a former Presbyterian mission with a population of 1.269 at the last Census, is on the eastern side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, 829km north-west of Cairns

Police seized 65 bottles of Bundaberg rum which was being smuggled into Aurukun on New Year's Eve. The community has a total alcohol ban

Police seized 65 bottles of Bundaberg rum which was being smuggled into Aurukun on New Year's Eve. The community has a total alcohol ban

Police seized 65 bottles of Bundaberg rum which was being smuggled into Aurukun on New Year’s Eve. The community has a total alcohol ban

‘The group then moved away and regrouped and gathered more people and it was about then that it turned out that they were seeking vengeance for the stabbing that occurred.

‘They were going house-to-house looking for what they believed were two offenders responsible for the death of the 37-year-old gentleman.

‘This became quite a violent confrontation at each and every residence. People were assaulted, property was damaged.’

Superintendent Sheldon said property was removed from some houses, put on front lawns and set alight. Molotov cocktails were thrown. 

‘As it evolved there was up to 200 to 250 people wandering around the streets of Aurukun – all armed, all aggressive – and it became quite a dangerous situation for all present as well as our staff… ‘

‘Our officers were very, very worried that at a flash-point things could turn against them and the station could be the target for the next Molotov cocktails.’

That did not happen, as the rioters concentrated on chasing down their factional foes rather than attacking police. 

Four people have been charged with riot and arson offences. Pictured is a house burning at Aurukun on New Year's Day as a police truck drives by

Four people have been charged with riot and arson offences. Pictured is a house burning at Aurukun on New Year's Day as a police truck drives by

Four people have been charged with riot and arson offences. Pictured is a house burning at Aurukun on New Year’s Day as a police truck drives by

Superintendent Sheldon said police tried to protect those threatened by rival family groups ‘armed to the teeth’, and to ‘bring some calm to the situation.’

‘That was basically unsuccessful from the get-go,’ he said. ‘There was quite a high level of violence.’

CHARGES LAID OVER THE AURUKUN RIOT 

A 17-year-old male youth and an 18-year-old man have been charged with murder. 

Twenty seven people have been charged with 118 other offences, mostly related to riot and arson. Among those to face court are: 

A 17-year-old male youth charged with one count of arson, one count of riot, three counts of enter dwelling and three counts of wilful damage.

A 37-year-old man charged with one count each of arson and riot.

A 40-year-old man charged with two counts of arson, one count of riot, three counts of enter with intent and three counts of wilful damage.

They appeared in Aurukun Magistrates Court on January 7 and have been remanded in custody in Cairns.

A 47-year-old man has been charged with one count each of riot and wilful damage and will appear in Aurukun Court on January 15.

Nineteen others will appear at Aurukun and Cairns Magistrates Courts between January and April.  

The 18-year-old charged with murder appeared at the Cairns Magistrates Court on January 2 via phone link from Weipa. He was remanded in custody and will appear again in April.

The 17-year-old charged with murder will be dealt with under the Youth Justice Act.

Anyone associated with the alleged killers came under attack. Cars linked to the teens’ clan were smashed and houses were firebombed.

‘Throughout the night there was roving groups of different sizes, all armed – spears, spear guns, star pickets, lumps of wood – seeking vengeance,’ Superintendent Sheldon said.

As in some other Cape York indigenous communities, a complete alcohol ban has been in place in Aurukun since 2009 but sly grog still gets into the township. 

On the day before the riot police seized 65 bottles of Bundaberg rum – which sells for up to $250 per 700ml – before it could be brought into Aurukun.

‘We thought, OK we’ve prevented some tremendous issues here – look at the seizure we’ve got, that’ll stand us in good stead for New Year’s Eve,’ Superintendent Sheldon said. 

However, alcohol successfully smuggled into the community helped fuel the New Year’s Day violence. 

‘It was noticed that a number of people in the group were intoxicated and it became a vengeance-seeking exercise,’ Superintendent Sheldon said.

The two alleged killers were identified early in the evening and whisked out of the township as quickly as possible.

‘Because of the high level of violence they quite willingly came and surrendered to us and were immediately removed from the community for their own safety and the safety of the rest of the people in the community.’

‘We hoped that this would put an end to the violence but it didn’t.

‘At one stage the group believed that we had taken the prisoners to the airport so approximately 100 people stormed the airport looking to try and get the prisoners back off us and do whatever it was that they were going to do to the both of them.’

The prisoners were not at the airport and Superintendent Sheldon was unwilling to say how they were spirited out of the town.

Superintendent Geoff Sheldon, assistant district officer of Queensland's Far North District, said police would not tolerate marauding bands of armed residents waging war at Aurukun

Superintendent Geoff Sheldon, assistant district officer of Queensland's Far North District, said police would not tolerate marauding bands of armed residents waging war at Aurukun

Superintendent Geoff Sheldon, assistant district officer of Queensland’s Far North District, said police would not tolerate marauding bands of armed residents waging war at Aurukun

As the night wore on, and much of southern Australia was beset by bushfire, more houses in the already over-crowded community were set alight.

‘By the time the sun came up… there was a total of six houses completely destroyed and two other houses vandalised so much so that they were completely uninhabitable,’ Superintendent Sheldon said.

‘So, in a community where housing is at its prime there’s eight houses lost to nothing more than sheer vengeance and arson attacks.

We’re up against 250 people and we don’t really need them to know what the size of our forces are.

‘Every morning… we get up and we see more and more houses are burnt to the ground across Australia through bushfires.

‘People are trying to do every single thing they can do avoid that happening to their small community and here we are, we’ve burnt down eight houses ourselves.’ 

During the night tactical officers were flown and driven into the township to reinforce the dozen or so police already on the ground. 

Superintendent Sheldon would not say how many reinforcements had been brought in but officers had arrived from Weipa, Coen, Brisbane and Cairns. 

‘I won’t be releasing the details of the exact logistics because again we’re up against 250 people and we don’t really need them to know what the size of our forces are.’

Armed residents were still wandering the streets at 7.30am and hundreds of men, women and children were cowering inside their homes.

During previous riots at Aurukon the local police station has been attacked. In November 2015 rioters shot at a police car

During previous riots at Aurukon the local police station has been attacked. In November 2015 rioters shot at a police car

During previous riots at Aurukon the local police station has been attacked. In November 2015 rioters shot at a police car 

Superintendent Sheldon described the rioters as having ‘struck at the heart of the community by damaging the fabric of it.’

‘You can’t have 250 people wandering around town all armed with spear guns and spears and things like that.’

No police were seriously injured in the riot. Elders had assured authorities ‘the angst and the community tensions relate to along family lines’. 

It was an inter-clan retribution for what they saw as the murder of one member of a family by others.

‘They weren’t angry with us, there was historic long-standing issues that again bubbled to the surface,’ Superintendent Sheldon said. 

‘It was an inter-clan retribution for what they saw as the murder of one member of a family by others.’

Superintendent Sheldon did not want to discuss the backgrounds of the dead man or the teens accused of killing him.

‘They’re a strong community and… there’s a rich, deep history of culture in the community.

‘And whilst there’s combative lines and not necessarily all the five clans always get along together they value each and every member of their community.’

Tactical officers were flown into the township to reinforce the dozen or so police already on the ground. CCTV cameras captured fires burning on New Year's Day

Tactical officers were flown into the township to reinforce the dozen or so police already on the ground. CCTV cameras captured fires burning on New Year's Day

Tactical officers were flown into the township to reinforce the dozen or so police already on the ground. CCTV cameras captured fires burning on New Year’s Day  

Aurukun has a long history of violence and other social problems. Residents including these women have previously been filmed fist-fighting in the street. There is no suggestion anyone pictured was involved in the New Year's Day riot

Aurukun has a long history of violence and other social problems. Residents including these women have previously been filmed fist-fighting in the street. There is no suggestion anyone pictured was involved in the New Year's Day riot

Aurukun has a long history of violence and other social problems. Residents including these women have previously been filmed fist-fighting in the street. There is no suggestion anyone pictured was involved in the New Year’s Day riot

Superintendent Sheldon acknowledged police would need to protect the charged teens’ families and their homes.

‘We’d be naive to think it’s ended there,’ he said. ‘The cultural lines that do exist in that community run deep and long and [the New Year’s Day riot] could result from something two years ago, five years ago or even further.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen the likes of eight houses burnt to the ground before.

Superintendent Sheldon said the riot was the worst flare-up since 2016.

‘Personally it’s the worst I’ve seen but I believe it also rates right up there with the history of the township. I don’t think we’ve ever seen the likes of eight houses burnt to the ground before.

‘I think we’ll go forward ten steps, we might come back a couple more. But the important thing is to keep walking forward, keep moving and try to bring the community back together in a peaceful harmony.’

Displaced residents who feared further reprisals were camped out in the bush with members of the Kapani Warrior group which is made up of former servicemen. 

Kapani Warrior runs personal development programs for young indigenous people in remote communities and is not set up for such large-scale humanitarian projects.

Program director Tim White told the ABC his team had provided food, water, shelter and medical support for people who had lost homes or did not feel safe staying in Aurukun.

Dr White said while Aurukun had faced violent unrest in the past the current circumstances were unprecedented and the community had now entered ‘uncharted waters’.

Members of the Kapani Warrior program stand arm-in-arm near Aurukun. Kapani Warrior runs personal development programs for young indigenous people in remote communities. Left to right are Dusty Miller, Dave Harrison, Tim White, Scott Perry and Max Bryant

Members of the Kapani Warrior program stand arm-in-arm near Aurukun. Kapani Warrior runs personal development programs for young indigenous people in remote communities. Left to right are Dusty Miller, Dave Harrison, Tim White, Scott Perry and Max Bryant

Members of the Kapani Warrior program stand arm-in-arm near Aurukun. Kapani Warrior runs personal development programs for young indigenous people in remote communities. Left to right are Dusty Miller, Dave Harrison, Tim White, Scott Perry and Max Bryant

‘Is it a humanitarian crisis? If you were to have a similar occurrence in other places around the globe, you would describe it as that.’

Aurukun Mayor Dereck Walpo said: ‘I thank the police for their work in our community over the past few days and urge residents to co-operate with them.’

‘I ask all members of our community to keep calm so we can move forward and begin the healing process.’

Police intercepted this shipment of rum into Aurukun on New Year's Eve

Police intercepted this shipment of rum into Aurukun on New Year's Eve

Police intercepted this shipment of rum into Aurukun on New Year’s Eve

Superintendent Sheldon said the mood in Aurukun would remain volatile for some time.

‘During the whole of this we’ve been trying to garner the support of community leaders and members of the community that can assist us to talk some sense between warring parties,’ he said.

‘The situation in Aurukun is long-standing. There are clans there that simply do not get on and the history of disagreements between them has been long-standing. And this is actually a further continuance of that.’

‘At this stage it’s a long road ahead. We’ve seen this behaviour before and we’ve progressed to where we are now. 

‘This is a couple of steps back but I’ve got every confidence that in collaboration with other government agencies and entities as well as the community we’ll move forward to bring peace and harmony back to Aurukun.’

Superintendent Sheldon said while Aurukun had a long history of rioting and other violence, progress had been made in recent years.

He was confident of bringing the community back together, ‘to once again be the proud Wik people of Aurukun and the art and history and culture that they bring to the world.’

Cape York Peninsula (pictured) in Queensland's far north features spectacular landscapes

Cape York Peninsula (pictured) in Queensland's far north features spectacular landscapes

Cape York Peninsula (pictured) in Queensland’s far north features spectacular landscapes

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Lord Lucan is ‘FOUND by son of nanny he murdered’: Fugitive peer ‘is tracked down to Australia

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The son of a nanny killed by Lord Lucan claims he has found the peer in Australia where he is housebound and awaiting a major operation.

Neil Berriman’s mother Sandra Rivett was murdered by Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, in November 1974.

Lord Lucan’s blood-stained car was later found abandoned in Newhaven, East Sussex, but he was never successfully traced.

The 52-year-old thinks he has located Lucan, who is now a Buddhist monk, in his 80s, and is seriously ill.

Mr Berriman said the peer originally lived in Perth after escaping to Australia, but moved to another part of the country after falling out with friends. 

Neil Berriman's mother Sandra Rivett was murdered by Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, in November 1974

Neil Berriman's mother Sandra Rivett was murdered by Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, in November 1974

Neil Berriman’s mother Sandra Rivett was murdered by Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, in November 1974

The father-of-two would later find out he was Sandra Rivett's (pictured) son, and 12 years ago began searching for Lucan

The father-of-two would later find out he was Sandra Rivett's (pictured) son, and 12 years ago began searching for Lucan

The father-of-two would later find out he was Sandra Rivett’s (pictured) son, and 12 years ago began searching for Lucan

He told the Daily Mirror: ‘I believe I have tracked down the man, Lord Lucan, who murdered my mother.’

Mr Berriman has already taken his extraordinary findings to Scotland Yard’s Cold Case Unit and hopes officers will now investigate.

After telling officers his new information about the man he believes is Lucan, he said: ‘I know he’s still alive.’

His new friendship group – two young Englishmen and an Australian – confirmed to the Mirror that an elderly Englishman who looks like Lord Lucan does live at the house.

The quartet all take part in daily meditation sessions, while Lord Lucan himself, who has a carer, often sits on the veranda listening to distant trains pass.

The man was said to know of claims he is Lord Lucan. The newspaper said it has chosen not to reveal his identity.

Mr Berriman was born Gary Roger Hensby (Sandra Rivett’s maiden name) in Southsea, Hampshire, in 1967 and was immediately put up for adoption. 

Aged six months, he was placed with Audrey and Ivan Berriman, and grew up in Petersfield, Hampshire. 

The father-of-two would later find out he was Sandra Rivett’s son, and 12 years ago began searching for Lucan.

Lord Lucan

Lord Lucan

Sandra Rivett

Sandra Rivett

After killing Ms Rivett (right) Lord Lucan’s (left) blood-stained car was later found abandoned in Newhaven, East Sussex, but he was never successfully traced

His mother, Ms Rivett. was brutally murdered in the darkened basement kitchen of the Lucan’s Belgravia home in November 1974.

Detectives believe the aristocrat – an abusive husband and heavy gambler nicknamed ‘Lucky Lucan’ – intended to murder his wife and killed the nanny by mistake.

Lucan was never seen in public again, and his body was never found, leading to decades of fevered speculation about his whereabouts.

Father-of-two Mr Berriman, who lives in West Sussex, with his wife Kim, said: ‘ He has been alive all this time. Lying about who he is. Lying about it to his new friends.

‘They are fully aware he is a mystery elderly Englishman and not who he is claiming to be. 

John Bingham, Lord Lucan is pictured with his wife Veronica Duncan in October 1963

John Bingham, Lord Lucan is pictured with his wife Veronica Duncan in October 1963

John Bingham, Lord Lucan is pictured with his wife Veronica Duncan in October 1963 

‘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.

‘Lucan is a deceitful conman and he is the man who murdered my mother.’

In 1975, an inquest jury declared Lucan to have been Ms Rivett’s killer. 

The High Court declared him dead for probate purposes in 1999, but there have been scores of reported sightings around the world, in countries including Australia, Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand.

In an ITV documentary in 2017, Lady Lucan said she believed Lord Lucan had jumped off a ferry shortly after the killing.

‘I would say he got on the ferry and jumped off in the middle of the Channel in the way of the propellers so that his remains wouldn’t be found,’ she said, calling what she believed to be his final act ‘brave.’ 

John Richard Bingham, Earl of Lucan, and Veronica Duncan after their marriage

John Richard Bingham, Earl of Lucan, and Veronica Duncan after their marriage

John Richard Bingham, Earl of Lucan, and Veronica Duncan after their marriage

In 2016 a court issued a ‘presumption of death’ certificate for Lord Lucan, a ruling that cleared the way for the couple’s son, George Bingham, to become the 8th Earl of Lucan. 

Lady Lucan was found dead in September 2017 at her home in Belgravia where her husband Lord Lucan famously disappeared.

Lady Lucan was one of the last people to see her husband alive.

The countess was in the house watching TV in her bedroom that night when the 29-year-old nanny Sandra Rivett was killed as she went downstairs to the unlit basement to make her employer a cup of tea.

The countess contends that she disturbed her husband after the fatal assault. He hit her four times with a length of bandaged metal piping before she grabbed his genitals.

Recalling the attack she said: ‘I’d started moving towards the cloakroom when someone rushed out and hit me about four times on the head with something hard. I screamed.

‘A voice said: ‘Shut up!’ I just had time to register that the man was my husband when he thrust three gloved fingers down my throat.

Lady Lucan in 2017

Lady Lucan in 2017

Lady Lucan with Lord Lucan before they married on November 20 1974

Lady Lucan with Lord Lucan before they married on November 20 1974

Lady Lucan in 2017 (left) and with Lord Lucan before they married on November 20 1974 

‘At this point, I started fighting back in earnest, but he switched tactics — trying to strangle me and then to gouge out my eyes. I gasped: ‘Please don’t kill me, John!’

Then, after she had persuaded her husband to get her a glass of water, she fled to a nearby pub and raised the alarm.

She recalled: ‘He told me, “I’ll go to Broadmoor for this”. [Our children] George and Camilla were seven and three when it happened, and asleep in bed.’

Lord Lucan fled the murder scene in a car he had borrowed. His body has never been found.

Over the years several fantastical theories about his disappearance have placed him in the Australian outback, as a hippy drop-out in Goa, and even fed to the tigers at his friend John Aspinall’s zoo.

Although a High Court judge granted a death certificate last year allowing his son to inherit his title, this has provided neither resolution nor a conclusion to the mystery.

Lady Lucan remained closer to the truth than anyone and with her death, the possibility of her husband’s disappearance being solved looks ever more remote. She believed that the note he left, with the poignant sentence, ‘Please tell those that you know, that all I cared about was them [the children]’, was proof her husband intended suicide.

That night he called at the home of friends in a Sussex village, before leaving in the early hours. Lucan told them he had happened on an attacker hitting his wife as he passed the family home.

His version of the story was that his wife had accused him of hiring a hitman to kill her and he claimed he was going to ‘lie doggo’ for a while.

Three days later his borrowed car was found abandoned and blood-splattered – with a section of bandaged lead piping in the boot – at the cross-Channel port of Newhaven, East Sussex.

Sightings of Lucan across the globe: Jungly Barry, a goat called Camilla and the riddle that has fascinated the world

In the years since he disappeared, Lucan (who would now be 85) has been variously ‘spotted’ in Africa, India, Australia, Holland and living in a Land Rover in New Zealand with a goat called Camilla.

There have been theories that the peer fled to West Africa and — extraordinarily — that his children were flown out there so he could see them.

‘Lucky’ Lucan’s privileged gambling friends were also said to have spirited him out of the country so he could evade justice, and his estranged wife (who was his intended target when he killed the family nanny) has previously claimed that as a gambler he would never have committed suicide ‘as gamblers always win the next hand’. 

In 1974 Australian police arrested a man they believed to be Lucan but it turned out to be Labour MP John Stonehouse who had faked his own death a month before.

A former Scotland Yard detective claimed in 2003 that an ageing hippy living in Goa, India was Lucan. Instead, it turned out to be Barry Halpin, or Jungly Barry, a well-known musician from the 1960s folk music circuit.

In 2004 Scotland Yard reopened the Lucan case and produced an image of what he would look like now. That same year it was reported that he had been living in Mozambique and was known by the name of John.

An Englishman in New Zealand called Roger Woodgate, who lived in a Land Rover with a goat called Camilla, was accused of being Lucan in 2007. Woodgate admitted he arrived in the country the same year that Lucan went missing from the UK but said he was 10 years younger and five inches shorter.

Other sightings include Lucan working as a waiter in San Francisco, at an alcoholics centre in Brisban and at a hotel in Madagascar.

There has even been speculation, started by Mr Aspinall, that Lucan committed suicide by scuttling the powerboat he kept at Newhaven. He said Lucan had killed the nanny by mistake and felt ashamed by his actions.  

Lady Lucan, prisoner of a macabre past she refused to relinquish: The last writer to interview her reveals how she foretold her own solitary death – and why she never healed the 30-year rift with her children

by Frances Hardy for the Daily Mail

Her words were both prescient and full of pathos; her own death was in the forefront of her mind as she turned 80.

Just four months before she was found dead, Veronica, the Dowager Countess of Lucan told me that she did not fear a solitary end.

Veronica, the Dowager Countess of Lucan (pictured in June 2017) told Frances Hardy last year that she did not fear a solitary end

Veronica, the Dowager Countess of Lucan (pictured in June 2017) told Frances Hardy last year that she did not fear a solitary end

Veronica, the Dowager Countess of Lucan (pictured in June 2017) told Frances Hardy last year that she did not fear a solitary end

Bereft of loved ones, her greatest terror, she confided, was becoming reliant on others to care for her.

‘I don’t fear dying alone — not at all,’ she said. ‘But I do fear dependency. I’d find that very depressing. It would be horrible to feel you were a burden.

‘Your faculties start to fade when you reach 80, so I’ve been thinking about my death. I’d quite enjoy the rest of my life if I knew it was not going to end in something horrific. I’ve given it some thought, and I support the idea of assisted suicide.’

Lady Lucan did indeed die alone last September in the mews house in Central London that had been her home for 40 years.

It would be premature to suggest that she might have opted to take her life — her son George Bingham, the 8th Earl Lucan, said she had passed away ‘apparently peacefully’ — but I can attest that the idea was certainly in her mind when we spoke.

I spent an afternoon with her in late spring and was the last journalist to interview her.

Lady Lucan was last seen by neighbours when she answered the door to the postman.

Police battered down her door after she had failed for three days in a row to turn up for a daily walk with a friend.

It was the end she had wished for, and she had not become a burden. But Lady Lucan’s old age was spent in frugal routine and quiet desperation. She remained obdurately alienated from her sister and three adult children.

Yet after her death in September, they paid warm tribute to her.

‘Although Veronica severed relations with her family in the Eighties, and continued to decline contact with them right up until her death, all of them remember her lovingly and with admiration,’ according to the statement they released.

‘She had a sharp mind, and when she spoke it, she did so eloquently. She was courageous and, at times, outrageous, with a mischievous sense of humour.

‘She was, in her day, beautiful and throughout her life fragile and vulnerable, struggling as she did with mental infirmity. To us she was and is unforgettable.’

Lady Lucan decorates a Christmas tree with her children Camilla, Frances and George in 1974

Lady Lucan decorates a Christmas tree with her children Camilla, Frances and George in 1974

Lady Lucan decorates a Christmas tree with her children Camilla, Frances and George in 1974

Lady Lucan was a woman who was both defined and imprisoned by a past she stubbornly refused to relinquish, even choosing to remain living in the same house she and her late husband, John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, had bought as a guest house (close to the family home), during their ill-fated marriage.

In November 1974, after 11 years together, Lord and Lady Lucan had separated.

Lucan, a 39-year-old professional gambler and inveterate drinker, disappeared on the night of November 7, after visiting the five-storey family home in Lower Belgrave Street and bludgeoning to death Sandra Rivett, 29, his children’s nanny, in the mistaken belief that she was his estranged wife.

Lucan then violently assaulted Veronica. His body has never been found and the mystery of his disappearance — one of the most compelling in recent history — has given rise to myth and speculation, and continues to fascinate today.

There seemed a perverseness in Lady Lucan’s decision to remain so enmeshed in this lurid story, eking out a modest state pension with her dwindling savings.

When we met, she described for the first time in such graphic detail the events of the awful night: how she disturbed her husband after he’d killed Mrs Rivett. How she was then set upon herself with a metal pipe before she managed to flee and raise the alarm, while her children slept in their beds.

Portraits of her husband loomed over us as we talked in the home where Lady Lucan imposed reclusiveness on herself. Heavy curtains, closed to deter snoopers, had shut out any vestige of daylight for the preceding four decades.

Tall, elegant and slender, her silver hair tied in a girlish ponytail, she sat ramrod straight in the fusty darkness of her airless home, among memorabilia that had remained preserved in time, like some parody of Dickens’s Miss Havisham, repining a dreadful marriage but determined never to forget it.

Lady Lucan, pictured with a portrait of her husband in 1976, had previously discussed assisted suicide if she had a terminal illness or a degenerative disease

Lady Lucan, pictured with a portrait of her husband in 1976, had previously discussed assisted suicide if she had a terminal illness or a degenerative disease

Lady Lucan, pictured with a portrait of her husband in 1976, had previously discussed assisted suicide if she had a terminal illness or a degenerative disease

She told me why she had never left the area: she liked the familiarity of the place, the predictability of her routines — a stroll in nearby Green Park preceded by a visit to Victoria library. It was around these humdrum activities that her life revolved.

Lady Lucan affected not to care that her children, Frances, 52, George, 50, and Camilla, 47, as well as her sister Christina Shand Kydd — distantly related by marriage to the late Princess Diana — were estranged from her.

She was blithely unconcerned too, that she had never met any of her five grandchildren. Neither did she express regret — nor regard it as odd — that she did not know the identity of her eldest daughter’s husband.

‘Frances didn’t tell me she was married,’ she told me, ‘but she was, recently. I don’t really know to whom, because I have no contact with them at all.’

Was this alarming disregard for all those who should have been dearest to her genuine? Actually, I believe not. I think it was the bravado of a stubborn woman who was not prepared to capitulate.

Her thoughts were very much focused on death and she revealed that she campaigned actively for assisted euthanasia, showing me a placard she had taken on a march, printed with the slogan Give Me A Choice Over My Own Death.

Following publication of the interview in the Mail, we kept up a short correspondence. She wrote to me: ‘I was happy about the article and especially for including my thoughts on death and disability.’

It was a sentiment I am certain was sharpened by the fact there was no close family member she would have been willing to turn to if her health failed.

So why did she never seek a rapprochement with her children? This is yet another of the abiding mysteries about the Lucan affair — especially as she had fought so hard to keep them when they were young.

Living apart from his family and on the brink of divorce, Lord Lucan had lost a ruinously costly and acrimonious battle for custody of his children and was mired in spiralling gambling debts when he tried to kill his wife. Frances was then nine, and George and Camilla respectively seven and three.

A 1975 inquest jury at a coroner’s court named him, in his absence, as Mrs Rivett’s murderer — he was the last person in Britain to be declared a murderer by an inquest jury (the procedure was later outlawed) — although he was never convicted in a criminal court.

Some have suggested a hired or unknown assailant was the nanny’s killer, and indeed Camilla, a QC, and George, a merchant banker, have always insisted their father should not be assumed guilty of their nanny’s murder.

This enraged Lady Lucan, who regarded it as a betrayal, and it may be one of the reasons she refused to be reconciled with them. Neither did it help that in their teens, the children opted to live in the country with their maternal aunt, rather than their mother.

Extravagant theories as to Lord Lucan’s whereabouts persisted for years: one posited the idea that he had been eaten by a lion in his friend John Aspinall’s zoo; another that he became a hippie in Goa; yet another that he’d disappeared into the Australian Outback. But Lady Lucan made clear to me she believed her husband had committed suicide.

After fleeing the murder scene, he visited friends in Sussex. Then a car he had borrowed from a friend was found — a length of bloodied lead piping in its boot — abandoned in the port of Newhaven.

‘He got on a ferry and jumped off mid-Channel, and was then chopped up by the propeller — which is why his body was never found,’ Lady Lucan told me. She said that as a powerboat racer, he had a detailed knowledge of propellers, and would have known precisely where to jump so his remains were destroyed.

Theirs had been a sorry union, a joyless marriage she said, describing her constant anxiety over the vast sums he regularly lost at the gaming tables.

She also recounted how, driven by loneliness — her frequently absent husband was taciturn and remote — she had sought solace in a platonic friendship with another man.

When Lucan found out, the man was warned off and she fell into a profound depression and was prescribed powerful anti-psychotic drugs, the dire side-effects of which convinced her, and her family, that she was losing her mind.

There was lacerating honesty, too, in Lady Lucan’s admission that she had taunted her husband about his ineptitude as a lover and in the humiliating confession that he beat her for his own sexual gratification. Her husband, she said, insisted she was both mad and an unfit mother; two suggestions she fervently denied. Twice, she recalled, she was taken by Lucan to psychiatric units against her will and twice she escaped.

The question that touched a nerve most acutely was whether she was a good mother. She wrote to me expressing regret that a newspaper article had suggested she neglected her children and accused her of spending too much time in bed. In fact, she countered, she was a conscientious parent; her children were always well turned-out and advanced in their schooling.

She resolutely denied, too, that she was ever psychotic, though she conceded: ‘I was pushed to the brink of madness. My husband manipulated me psychologically, so I began to think I was mad.

‘He had a campaign to destroy me. I was a nuisance. He was an imposing character, an earl, and the doctors believed all he told them about me.

‘I, in turn, just accepted what the doctors said. I had injections [of anti-psychotics] and their side-effects were horrible. I had hallucinations, restlessness — I walked for miles and miles — and the drugs induced Parkinson’s disease.’

Lady Lucan, there is little doubt, could be difficult, intransigent and self-serving. Yet there was something profoundly sad about her.

She told me she was fit — she took no medication now, endured no ailments — and neither was she suffering from depression.

Yet her existence, in a house that seemed to be suffocating her, was meagre and joyless. There had, she said, been lovers since her husband disappeared, but there were no more. All her friends from the old days — when there had been money for servants, private hospitals, lavish holidays — were dead.

All that remained were her daily visits to the library, where she used the computer, and those walks in the park.

The coffee she served me was instant, and the chocolate she offered a supermarket’s own budget brand.

She said she regretted proposals to end the winter fuel allowance for all but the poorest pensioners, and I wondered whether she was dreading the impending chill of another lonely winter.

This cannot have been the future she envisaged for herself, when — in part out of expediency — she agreed to marry John, then Lord Bingham, in March 1963.

They had met at a point-to-point — the then Veronica Duncan was there with her sister, Christina, and her husband, businessman Bill Shand-Kydd, whose half-brother, Peter, would later marry Princess Diana’s mother, Frances.

‘There was John, standing against the rails and laying bets, looking like a caricature of a gentleman: baggy cavalry twills, tweed cap, moustache,’ she said.

He was a professional gambler, and she the daughter of an Army officer who’d won the Military Cross in World War I but died before she was two.

Veronica’s mother had married again, and from the age of 13, Lady Lucan grew up living in a pub in North Waltham, Hampshire, ‘a typical country girl, obsessed with my pony and gymkhanas’.

She conceded that she felt ‘no chemistry’ when John chatted her up, but fearing, aged 26, that time was running out for her to snare a decent catch as a husband, she agreed to marry him.

It was not the most auspicious start to a relationship that descended into acrimony, recrimination and bitterness — and ultimately attempted murder — yet extraordinarily, when I asked Lady Lucan if she regretted it, she replied: ‘I can’t say that I’m sorry I married him because I would not have had three beautiful children, would I?

‘I was never so happy in my life as when George was born.’

George, she told me, had once proposed a meeting in a nearby hotel, but she had declined because she would have preferred a rendezvous at his home.

They did not meet.

Did she regret her obduracy? We will never know.

Yet, Lady Lucan’s family say they will remember her ‘lovingly’ despite the severing of ties. But surely it is part of this family’s abiding tragedy that it was a love never returned while she was still alive.

How bludgeoned Lady Lucan was one of the last people to see Lord Lucan alive before he disappeared

Detectives believe Lord Lucan intended to murder his wife and killed the nanny by mistake

Detectives believe Lord Lucan intended to murder his wife and killed the nanny by mistake

Detectives believe Lord Lucan intended to murder his wife and killed the nanny by mistake

John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, vanished after the body of nanny Sandra Rivett was found at the family’s London home on November 7, 1974.

Lady Lucan was bludgeoned when she ran downstairs to investigate, but managed to escape and raise the alarm.

Lord Lucan’s blood-stained car was later found abandoned in Newhaven, East Sussex, but he was never successfully traced.

Lucan was never seen in public again, and his body was never found, leading to decades of fevered speculation about his whereabouts.

In 1975, an inquest jury declared him to have been Ms Rivett’s killer.

Detectives believe the aristocrat – an abusive husband and heavy gambler nicknamed ‘Lucky Lucan’ – intended to murder his wife and killed the nanny by mistake.

His marriage to Lady Lucan had been described as ‘grimly unhappy.’ The mystery of Lord Lucan’s disappearance still intrigues Britain.

His marriage to Lady Lucan (pictured with their son George, three) had been described as 'grimly unhappy'

His marriage to Lady Lucan (pictured with their son George, three) had been described as 'grimly unhappy'

His marriage to Lady Lucan (pictured with their son George, three) had been described as ‘grimly unhappy’

The High Court declared him dead for probate purposes in 1999, but there have been scores of reported sightings around the world, in countries including Australia, Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand.

In an ITV documentary last year, Lady Lucan said she believed Lord Lucan had jumped off a ferry shortly after the killing.

‘I would say he got on the ferry and jumped off in the middle of the Channel in the way of the propellers so that his remains wouldn’t be found,’ she said, calling what she believed to be his final act ‘brave.’

The couple had three children.

In 2016 a court issued a ‘presumption of death’ certificate for Lord Lucan, a ruling that cleared the way for the couple’s son, George Bingham, to become the 8th Earl of Lucan.

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Killing Eve and Peaky Blinders help BBC’s iPlayer enjoy 12 per cent leap in use

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The BBC‘s iPlayer was watched 4.4billion times last year, figures from the corporation show.

Yesterday it said the number of streams and downloads on the site had jumped by 12 per cent from the previous year.

Killing Eve‘s second season was the most watched series of the year on the service with just under 41million requests to view it.

The BBC's iPlayer was watched 4.4billion times last year, figures from the corporation show

The BBC's iPlayer was watched 4.4billion times last year, figures from the corporation show

The BBC’s iPlayer was watched 4.4billion times last year, figures from the corporation show

The opening episode of the fifth series of Peaky Blinders was the biggest single episode with 5.97million streams and downloads, narrowly beating the opener for series five of Line of Duty.

The BBC said this was the first time the service had ‘broken’ 4billion requests in a year, making it its best year ever. 

December was the biggest month for the service with 447million streams and downloads, with Gavin and Stacey being the most successful single episode in that month.

Killing Eve's second season was the most watched series of the year on the service with just under 41million requests to view it

Killing Eve's second season was the most watched series of the year on the service with just under 41million requests to view it

Killing Eve’s second season was the most watched series of the year on the service with just under 41million requests to view it

The Christmas special attracted 4.3million requests in December, which has risen to 5.2million.

Other December shows that did well included EastEnders, His Dark Materials, Call the Midwife and A Christmas Carol.

Dan McGolpin, controller of BBC iPlayer, said: ‘Viewers are finding that BBC iPlayer offers them a total TV experience, bringing the nation together for big live events such as the Strictly final.’

Source: BBC – Daily Mail

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