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Thursday 22 March 2018

Shackleton Jr 'stole crown jewels'


A CENTURY has passed since the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen from Dublin Castle in what is still considered one of the most bizarre and baffling mysteries in Irish criminal history, but a new review of the evidence suggests that Francis Shackleton, the disreputable brother of polar explorer Ernest, should be considered the prime suspect.

Historical researcher and author Sean J Murphy will later this month publish his findings, which will finger Shackleton as the probable thief. The theft of the jewels, worth €1m in today's money, was discovered on July 6, 1907.

The jewels, encrusted with rubies, emeralds and Brazilian diamonds, were the regalia, or insignia, of the Order of St Patrick. The safe had been opened with a key and the theft was clearly an inside job.

Last month, after 101 years, the empty safe was returned to Dublin Castle, having been kept in Kevin Street Garda Station since the theft.

The jewels were discovered to be missing four days before the state visit of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra and angered the monarch, though the visit went ahead.

In 1903, the jewels had been transferred to a safe, which was to be placed in a newly constructed strongroom, but the new safe was too large for the doorway to the room.

Instead Arthur Vicars, the Officer of Arms of Dublin Castle, stored the jewels in his office. Seven people had keys to the office, but the two safe keys were in the sole possession of Vicars.

Vicars came under intense pressure following the theft, but refused to resign or appear at a Viceregal Commission into the incident. He argued for a public royal inquiry and accused his second in command, Francis Shackleton, who had been staying at his house. The Commission concluded Vicars "did not exercise due vigilance or proper care as the custodian of the regalia", but Vicars believed he had been made a scapegoat.

Mr Murphy, whose new research coincides with the centenary of the publication of the Viceregal Commission of Enquiry, points out the Commission's report also contained an unusual paragraph specifically stating that there was no evidence that Shackleton, who had severe money worries at the time, had stolen the jewels.

However, "having reviewed the evidence, my view is that Francis Shackleton is the prime suspect", he says.

Mr Murphy said there is another possible suspect, Francis Bennett Goldney, who had access to the castle and the room where the safe was stored. After his death Goldney was found to be, as Mr Murphy puts it, "a thieving magpie", stealing artefacts and documents from various institutions.

The case against Shackleton is stronger, however. Mr Murphy points out that Shackleton's criminal leanings were confirmed when he was convicted of fraud in 1913. Following his release from prison, Shackleton assumed the surname Mellor and died in 1941 in Chichester.

The unfortunate Vicars retired to Kerry and was shot be the IRA in 1921. They also burned down his home, Kilmorna House, near Listowel.

In his will, Vicars condemned the authorities and King Edward for shielding "the real culprit and thief", who he named as Francis Shackleton.

Vicars' bitterness is clear, though the full contents of his will were not made available for public inspection until 1976.

The censored excerpt follows his various bequests and states: "I might have had more to dispose of had it not been for the outrageous way in which I was treated by the Irish Government over the loss of the Irish Crown Jewels in 1907, backed up by the late King Edward VII, when I was made a scapegoat to save other departments responsible and when they shielded the real culprit and thief, Francis R. Shackleton (brother of the explorer who didn't reach the South Pole).

"My whole life & work was ruined by this cruel misfortune and by the wicked and blackguardly acts of the Irish Government.

"I had hoped to leave a legacy to my dear little dog Ronnie, had he not been taken from me this year -- well we shall meet in the next world."

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