€1m State coach made for the Queen Elizabeth 'missing'
A €1m handmade state coach designed as a gift for Queen Elizabeth's 80th birthday has vanished in Australia.
The jewel-encrusted 2.75 tonne black carriage, made with $250,000 (€185,000) of Australian taxpayers' money, was supposed to be delivered in 2006, but government officials have admitted they have no idea where it is.
The coach, named Britannia, is decorated with 24 diamonds, 130 sapphires and 400 books of gold leaf and is estimated to be worth a total of A$1.5 million (€1m).
It was made by monarchist Jim Frecklington and is said to feature fragments of more than 100 British historical artefacts including timber from Henry VIII's flagship the Mary Rose, a piece of the 1760 doorway from 10 Downing Street and gold from Admiral Nelson's crown from the Battle of Trafalgar.
While he was prime minister, John Howard committed $250,000 worth of public money to the project to support "Australian craftsmanship".
Two years ago Mr Frecklington said the coach was ready and awaiting shipment to Britain, but under questioning in a Senate inquiry on Wednesday, government officials admitted that they do not know where the coach is and had never inspected it.
"Someone could have absconded with it," Senator John Faulker told the inquiry "Is there any hope that the carriage will be presented to Her Majesty by the time she is 90?"
Mr Frecklington has insisted that the coach, which was not commissioned by the royal household and therefore will not be an official royal carriage, is not missing but would not elaborate on its whereabouts.
"It's ready to go, " he told the Sydney Daily Telegraph. "You will see more of it soon." Mr Frecklington also designed the Australian State Coach, which was given to the Queen on behalf of the Australian people for the Bicentennial in 1988.