In November 1974 Richard Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan commonly known as Lord Lucan, vanished after his children’s nanny Sandra Rivett, was found bludgeoned to death, and his ex-wife was severely beaten with a lead pipe. Lord Lucan’s car was later found abandoned and bloodstained in Newhaven, East Sussex. An inquest found that Lord Lucan killed Sandra after mistaking her for his wife.
Aristocracy is an archaic institution. As a peer of the realm Lord Lucan inherited his title from a direct ancestor. Peers date back to feudal times where originally they swore an oath of loyalty to the monarch in exchange for protection, land, money, or a combination of these things. A Peers fortunes rose and fell according to the stability and their favour with the Monarch. Peers were periodically summoned to Parliament, forming the origins of the House of Lords.
Usually the title can only be inherited by legitimate male heirs therefore the 8th Earl of Lucan, can only inherit on the death of the 7th Earl. The absence of a body, and lack of a death certificate, complicates things, as the earldom cannot pass to his son George Bingham until he is granted a death certificate for his father.
Lord Lucan liked to gamble, and although he was successful as a young man was Bankrupt when he disappeared. A report to creditors in August 1975 stated his unsecured debts of £45,000 and liabilities of £1,326. His assets were estimated at £22,632. In order to discharge his debts the family silver was sold and the balance was repaid from proceeds from the Lucan family trust.
Some people might not want to take a title that is as infamous, however, the Bingham family has form on that front. The 3rd Lord Lucan, is known, among other things, for being one of three men responsible for giving the order for the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava in October 1854 – made famous by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
English law generally assumes that if there has been no evidence a person is still alive, and after inquiries have been made into their whereabouts the people most likely to hear from them have had no contact after seven years they are considered to be dead. The Lucan family was granted probate in 1999 however no death certificate was issued and his son was refused permission to claim both the title and his seat in the House of Lords.
The Presumption of Death Act 2013 was passed allowing an application to the High Court to declare that a person is presumed dead. Death is taken to occur on
(a) the last day that they could have been alive (if the court is satisfied that they are dead),or
(b) the day seven years after the date they were last seen (if death is presumed by the elapse of time).
As the 7th Earl of Lucan was last seen alive in 1974 (notwithstanding numerous alleged sightings since that time) the Court issued a death certificate.
George Bingham can now assume the family title as the 8th Earl of Lucan but cannot sit in the House of Lords, as the title was one of those excluded when membership of the upper house was reformed in 1999. He is however eligible to join the ranks of peers who can be elected to replace those who have died or retired.