No inquiry into Maxwell death'for fear of Spanish reaction'
23 September 2004 LONDON - Former British prime minister John Major's government refused to hold a British inquiry into the death of the publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell in case it would upset Spanish authorities, it was reported Thursday. The Guardian newspaper claims the former government also privately feared an inquiry might mean a payout for his family GBP 20 million in accident insurance.
23 September 2004
LONDON - Former British prime minister John Major's government refused to hold a British inquiry into the death of the publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell in case it would upset Spanish authorities, it was reported Thursday.
The Guardian newspaper claims the former government also privately feared an inquiry might mean a payout for his family GBP 20 million in accident insurance.
British ministers thought Spanish authorities would see a fresh inquiry as a "vote of no confidence" in their inquiry, according to the Whitehall file on Maxwell's death released Thursday at the National Archives, Kew, west London.
The secret file confirms that the then transport secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, did have the power to launch a British inquiry into Maxwell's death after he mysteriously fell overboard one night from his motor yacht, the Lady Ghislane, near Tenerife.
Maxwell died facing financial ruin after he had stolen GBP 400 million from his companies' pension funds in an abortive attempt to keep his failing publishing empire afloat.
The Transport Department file includes statements by the crew of the Lady Ghislane describing the search for his body, but they throw no new light on the question of did he fall or was he pushed.
When Rifkind was considering whether to hold an inquiry, Patrick Fearn, the British ambassador in Madrid, warned that such an investigation should take place back in London not on Spanish soil.
He told Rifkind the Spanish authorities would see it as "an extraordinary vote of no confidence" in their investigation and add an unwelcome political dimension to the affair.
He said the British press had already been full of "patronising and disobliging remarks" about the abilities of the Spanish authorities and Madrid would be hostile and uncooperative to the point that it would damage British-Spanish relations.
In the event, the Spanish did botch the job, claims the newspaper.
When a second autopsy was carried out on his body in Jerusalem, the Israeli doctors criticised the quality of the Spanish work.
One doctor said the head had been opened but it was done so badly there were pieces they did not recognise and could not tell if he had suffered a blow to the head.
In London, P Kitchen of the Transport Department said the Foreign Office had endorsed the ambassador's opposition and added that the British consul in Tenerife was not up to handling the case.
He said a normal department inquiry would be ill-equipped to handle these issues and the accompanying media pressure.
In the event, Rifkind followed his advice but Whitehall press officers were not authorised to give a full explanation.
Kitchen says they were told to "merely say" such an inquiry would serve no purpose in the absence of the body.
Subject: Spanish news