Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Missing Earl 'May Have Fallen Victim to Riviera Gangsters'; WE CANNOT RULE OUT KIDNAPPING, ACCIDENT OR MURDER, SAYS PEER'S LAWYER

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Missing Earl 'May Have Fallen Victim to Riviera Gangsters'; WE CANNOT RULE OUT KIDNAPPING, ACCIDENT OR MURDER, SAYS PEER'S LAWYER

Article excerpt

Byline: PATRICK SAWER

THE missing Earl of Shaftesbury may have fallen victim to members of the underworld after finding himself drawn to the escort girls of the French Riviera.

The 66-year-old peer, said to have dedicated himself to helping vulnerable young girls start new lives, is feared to have fallen into the clutches of gangsters on the Cote d'Azur.

His lawyer Thierry Bensaude said Lord Shaftesbury may have come to harm after threatening four men with court action in an attempt to retrieve antiques and a family portrait missing from his home.

M Bensaude raised the alarm when the earl, whose full name is Anthony Ashley-Cooper, vanished 11 days ago. Now he has revealed that he was instructed by Lord Shaftesbury to launch proceedings against four men to retrieve antique furniture and a portrait of his great-great-great grandmother Mary Pleydell-Bouverie.

The men, who befriended the earl in a bar, claim they were given the items as gifts, but he disputed this and was taking the matter to the French civil courts.

M Bensaude said this may have proved to be a mistake. "He thought he had been taken advantage of, but this was a different world where people play by different rules," he said. "The earl was intrigued by these men and maybe a little fascinated, and it was exciting for him to mix with them." He said it was unlike the Lord Shaftesbury not to let his family and friends know his whereabouts and that he was too strong a character to take his own life.

"We cannot exclude any of the other hypotheses: kidnapping, accident, murder," he added.

Lord Shaftesbury was a familiar figure in the hostess bars dotted along the Riviera, where he was frequently seen showering girls with money and presents. M Bensaude said: "He has the presence of an aristocrat. But he tried to cross the social barrier and enter a circle whose rules he did not know. …

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