But more than four decades since Lord Lucan vanished, a legal bid has been officially launched by his only son, George Bingham, to inherit his father’s title.
Lord Bingham has applied under the Presumption of Death Act, which came into effect a year ago, in the hope of securing a death certificate which would mean that he can then assume the title as the eighth Earl.
Once apparently considered for the role of James Bond, his father, the seventh earl of Lucan, was the embodiment of charisma who made no secret of his expensive tastes, racing power boats and driving an Aston Martin.
But he vanished after Sandra Rivett, the nanny to his three children, was found murdered at the family home at 46, Lower Belgrave Street in central London, on November 7, 1974.
While he was officially declared dead by the High Court in 1999, there have been reported sightings in Australia, Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand, and even claims that he fled to India and lived life as a hippy called “Jungly Barry”.
A hearing at the High Court in London yesterday set out a timetable for when a decision will be made on whether a death certificate should be granted for the scandal-hit aristocrat.
A High Court judge will make the decision after the case is due to be heard between the beginning of February and the end of March. Miss Rivett’s son, Neil Berriman, was yesterday granted permission to intervene in the case.
Lord Bingham attended the brief hearing and said afterwards that the time for comment was when the case returned to court. He has, however, claimed the 1999 declaration had not proved death “for all purposes” and the new law allows for a “more complete process”.
On the night of the peer’s disappearance, the nanny’s attacker also turned on Lord Bingham’s mother, Lady Lucan, beating her severely before she managed to escape and raise the alarm at a nearby pub. Lord Lucan’s car was found abandoned and soaked in blood in Newhaven, East Sussex, and an inquest jury declared him the killer a year later.
Lord Bingham’s counsel, Michael Bloch QC, told yesterday’s hearing that Mr Berriman no longer objected to the orders sought “but his concerns as to historical matters remain as sensitive as ever”.
Mr Berriman, 47, has previously said: “I don’t know if Lord Lucan is alive or not – but I want justice. There have been too many cover-ups already and he should not be declared dead. If Lord Lucan is still alive, he should be prosecuted.”