Lucan alive? No. Racked by guilt, he took his own life
It's 1974 and Lord 'Lucky' Lucan makes an astonishing confession to the mother of a close friend: he is planning to kill his wife, a woman who has the habit of embarrassing him in front of his jetset friends.
Perhaps not taking him altogether too seriously, the friend, who happens to be the grandmother of the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, tells Lucan to make sure he disposes of the body properly.
A few days later, the 39-year-old peer's plan goes terribly wrong. Instead of killing Lady Lucan, the Eton-educated peer succeeds only in murdering his children's nanny, Sandra Rivett, after mistaking the two women in the dark on November 7, 1974.
Now a close friend of Lucan's has come forward to say that far from disappearing abroad, Lucan simply filled his pockets with stones, and overcome with remorse jumped off his boat and drowned in Newhaven Harbour.
Speaking in public for the first time, James Wilson - a member of the louche Clermont set of wealthy gamblers to which Lord "Lucky" Lucan belonged - says: "I believe that when he realised he had killed the nanny, the remorse, guilt and panic led him to commit suicide."
In his botched attack, he had bludgeoned Mrs Rivett to death before attacking his wife, who had come downstairs wondering where the nanny was. Lady Lucan, who managed to get out of the house and survived her injuries, had filed for divorce and had gained custody of their three children.
In a reflection of the misogynistic attitudes of the day, Mr Wilson, now a wealthy philanthropist, says there would have been a certain amount of sympathy among the Clermont set for Lucan's desire to kill his wife.
"Veronica wasn't very well liked, I'm afraid," he said. "People would have understood why he wanted rid of her."
Mr Wilson's own memories of Veronica Lucan, then 35, are that of a rather brittle, unattractive and condescending character. He remembers one evening when Lady Lucan put him off his food after stating that the beef served at the Clermont Club reminded her of something unmentionable.
"I found this remark really quite off-putting and found I could not continue the conversation, she effectively silenced me as a dinner partner," said Wilson (85).
Wilson recalls one particular incident at the Mayfair club, run by their mutual friend, tycoon John Aspinall.
He said: "After a dinner, everybody gathered to have coffee and liqueurs. I was standing next to Veronica and noticed a very attractive blonde standing in front of us.
"Suddenly Veronica started to swing her handbag round and round in front of her, like someone preparing a sling shot, and this is exactly what she had in mind, as her handbag hit the back of the head of the blonde girl who fell to the floor, writhing in agony.
"Lucan, who was standing nearby, looked at Veronica in absolute fury, grabbed her, apologised to the girl and marched Veronica out of the club. I have never seen Lucan so angry and this incident may have triggered the thought that Veronica had to be dealt with in a terminal way."
It was not long after that Lucan appeared to confide in Aspinall's mother, Lady Osborne. Mr Wilson, who built a pet food empire in the Sixties, says "Lady O" - grandmother of George Osborne - later relayed to him the substance of their conversation.
"I asked Lady O if she had known about what Lucky was about to do to Veronica," he said. "She told me that Lucky had confided to her that he intended to kill Veronica.
"She told me she said to him, 'Well John, if you intend to do that, make sure you hide her body well!' Lady O had a loud cackling laugh and it was obvious she did not like Veronica - not many people did."
After his murderous plan went wrong, Lucan fled while his wife, blood pouring from a head wound, staggered along the street, seeking help.
Lucan drove 42 miles to the home of friends in the Sussex village of Uxbridge. He left in the early hours and three days later his car - a Ford Corsair - was found abandoned at Newhaven.
In her own account of that night, published online, Lady Lucan admits to having offered to help her husband conceal Mrs Rivett's body, shortly before he viciously turned on her.
In London last week, it was claimed that another of the few surviving members of the Clermont set has contacted a private detective to tell him he has evidence that Lucan took his own life. The claim emerged during a hearing to determine whether a death certificate should be issued for Lord Lucan, allowing his son George to use his father's title.
The court was told of a "credible witness" who insists Lucan died within a few hours of murdering Mrs Rivett.
But Mr Wilson is one who is certain Lucan committed suicide. He said: "He'd been drinking - an empty bottle of vodka was found in the boot of his car - and if you're planning to kill your wife, it's not helpful to drink.
"On discovering he'd killed the nanny, he would have been racked by guilt and remorse. He gambled and lost," adds Mr Wilson. "When his plan turned into a disaster, he exited. It's as simple as that."