Politicians fawned at Rupert Murdoch’s feet. Then a hacked phone brought the tycoon low.
Media titan Rupert Murdoch today launched his latest Sunday paper, The Sunday Sun—and despite all the media hype that the first issue would land the mother of all world exclusives, it has turned out to be nothing but moonshine.
For the past week, Fleet Street has been agog with rumors that The Sunday Sun (which replaces the defunct News of the World) would be exclusively revealing the final whereabouts of Britain’s most wanted fugitive, Lord Lucan.
The Seventh Earl of Lucan has been missing since 1974 after a botched murder—and in journalistic terms, the story of what actually happened to Lucan would be the scoop of all scoops, an absolute Leviathan of an exclusive.
But after all the huffing and puffing about the so-called Lord Lucan exclusive, it has turned out to be not so much a Leviathan as the Loch Ness Monster: a lot of talk, a lot of intrigue, a lot of money spent, and even a certain amount of romance, but in the end, it has had not one iota of substance.
The Lord Lucan scandal has captivated Britons for 38 years, ever since the 39-year-old earl tried to claw his way out of his financial penury, the story goes, by attempting to kill his estranged wife. But instead he’s said to have mistakenly bludgeoned to death his children’s 29-year-old nanny, Sandra Rivett, before going on the run.
The earl has never been seen or heard of since, despite the media and the police spending millions of pounds trying to track him down over the years.
But in the past week, the British press has gone into a complete feeding frenzy over all things Lucan, doubtless whipped up by the whiff of the The Sunday Sun’s imminent world exclusive.
It started off a week ago, with a BBC documentary that revealed that an anonymous woman had fixed up flights for two of Lucan’s children to go to Africa, where the fugitive earl could discreetly watch them from a distance.
Days later, it was revealed that the earl’s silver watch had turned up in a South African pawnbroker’s shop. If it was indeed Lucan’s watch, it would have been presented to him on his 43rd birthday by his gambling chums, and it comes complete with a racy engraving on the back that reads, “Presented to Lord ‘Lucky’ Lucan - the Old Fossil - by his friends at the Clermont Club, Mayfair, 18 December 1967.”
But the problem with the watch and the anonymous flight fixer is the same problem that there is with every other so-called piece of evidence about the earl’s life on the run. It might be true—but it could just as easily be a hoax. Over the years there have been so many rock-solid leads that have evaporated like morning mist that it has become absolutely impossible to know fact from fiction.
There is much more interest and general amusement in keeping the mystery alive.
The Guardian newspaper also added fuel to the Lord Lucan hype this week by out-scooping The Sun on Sunday. They’d had a tip that two Sun reporters had apparently tracked the earl down to Botswana, where he’d last been seen in a remote bar in the bush in 2000.
Also adding ballast to the Lord Lucan juggernaut have been two cracking exclusive interviews this week. The first was with Lord Lucan’s wife, who reiterated her views that the earl committed suicide soon after realizing that he’d killed the wrong woman.
The second exclusive was in the popular “red top” the Daily Mirror—a direct rival of The Sun—which may well have been teed up by all the hype to produce what’s known as “a spoiler” for their Saturday paper. Spoilers generally run to several pages and are usually nothing more than hot air; their sole aim is to wreck the genuine exclusive of a competing paper.
The Mirror’s Lord Lucan exclusive ran on five pages, including the front page, and was the first-ever interview with the earl’s younger brother, Hugh Bingham. But although it was an impressive scoop, there was very little substance to the interview.
Hugh Bingham, 72, thought his brother had probably escaped to Africa—and might still be alive. But as ever with the Lord Lucan story, there was not a scrap of hard evidence for any of these suppositions.
So for British journalists, it was with some sense of intrigue that we went out to buy the first ever issue of The Sunday Sun this morning: could The Sun hacks, buoyed up by Murdoch’s millions, have finally cracked this age-old mystery?
As it turned out, the paper led on an interview with British TV star Amanda Holden. It was just your usual showbiz exclusive; normal service had very much been resumed.
And so the great Lord Lucan scandal continues to thrive, and it has to be admitted that there is much more interest and general amusement in keeping the mystery alive than there ever would be in finally managing to hammer the last nail into the earl’s coffin.
One of the preeminent Lord Lucan hunters was Mirror reporter Garth Gibbs, who in his time was sent all around the world to hunt for the missing earl. Gibbs, who died last year, pithily summed up the journalistic view of the nation’s favorite mystery story.
“I regard not finding Lord Lucan as my most spectacular success in journalism,” said Gibbs. “Of course, many of my colleagues have also been fairly successful in not finding Lord Lucan. But I have successfully not found him in more exotic spots than anybody else.
“I spent three glorious weeks not finding him in Cape Town, magical days and nights not finding him in the Black Mountains of Wales, and wonderful and successful short breaks not finding him in Macau either, or in Hong Kong or even in Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas, where you can find anyone.”
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