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29 January 2020 | Comment | Article by Roman Kubiak TEP

Lord Lucan: Has the 7th Earl of Lucan, missing since 1974 and presumed dead, been found alive? What could this mean?

The case of Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan “Lord Lucan”, has captured the imagination of the British public since Sandra Rivett, Lucan’s children’s nanny, was found bludgeoned to death at Lucan’s home in 1974. There have been no confirmed sightings of Lucan since, and his car was found near cliffs on the coast of East Sussex, leading to speculation that Lucan may have committed suicide, though his body has never been found.

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The case has become almost folklore in the UK.

Reported sightings of Lucan include:

  • France in June 1975
  • Colombia in 1982
  • India in 2003
  • New Zealand in 2007

But what about the legal considerations? Was Lucan actually dead? How could it be proven, and what would happen to Lucan’s title and estate?

A grant of probate, allowing Lucan’s £14,000 estate to be administered, was issued in 1999, although the grant stated:

“Be it known that the Right Honorable Richard John Bingham, Seventh Earl of Lucan, of 72a Elizabeth Street, London SW1, died on or since the 8th day of November 1974.”

No death certificate was issued at that time, and George Bingham, his son and potential heir, was unable to inherit his father’s title, nor to take his father’s seat in the House of Lords.

However, in 2016, following the enactment of the Presumption of Death Act 2013, George Bingham made an application for a declaration that Lord Lucan was dead and, thus, allow him to obtain a death certificate and inherit his title.

The hearing, which took place in 2016, was expected to last three days, but Ms Rivett’s son, Neil Berriman, withdrew his opposition to the declaration, and Mrs Justice Asplin granted the death certificate in a hearing which lasted less than an hour, and which finally allowed George Bingham to become the 8th Earl of Lucan, more than 40 years following his father’s disappearance.

At the time of the 2016 hearing, Neil Berriman reportedly stated “I think [Lord Lucan is] dead. It is fantastic and I am very pleased for [George Bingham]”.

However, it has now been reported that Neil Berriman claims to have found Lord Lucan alive and living as a Buddhist monk in Australia. Mr Berriman has reportedly informed Scotland Yard’s cold case unit of his findings.

Should Mr Berriman’s claims that Lord Lucan is alive be correct, this would lead his death certificate and the declaration of death being set aside under section 5 of the Presumption of Death Act 2013. George Bingham, would then potentially have to give up his title.

Lord Lucan senior would also be entitled to make an application for the grant of probate in his estate to be revoked, and could potentially lay claim to his own estate ignoring the possibility that, as a Buddhist monk, he may shun personal possessions.

More crucially, however, should Lord Lucan be found alive it would almost certainly result in him standing trial for the murder of Sandra Rivett in 1974.

Find more information on our Contested Wills, Trusts & Estates department. Or if you want to discuss any issues raised in this article contact us today.

Author bio

Roman Kubiak is a partner and head of the market leading Contested Wills, Trusts and Estates team.

He advises across the whole spectrum of private wealth disputes, with a particular focus on high value, complex and cross-border disputes including: trust disputes, breach of trust claims and applications to remove trustees; will disputes, particularly those with an international element; claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975; and claims for equitable relief under proprietary estoppel, constructive trusts and resulting trusts.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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