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One thing I can reveal about Lord 'Lucky' Lucan, is that the vanished earl was a very good card player. The point is relevant now, 20 years after his disappearance, when his family is seeking to have him declared legally dead, in order to clear up outstanding financial matters.

At poker, John was the most graceful winner or loser with whom I have ever sat down. His play was engaging, humorous and well balanced - up or down. He never raised an eyebrow even when we were (I think) cheated one night.

His poker does not rate a mention in Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Ranson's new book Looking for Lucan, however. This is a much better account than might be expected.

It covers Lucan's early life up to his disappearance on 7 November 1974, after the murder of the family's nanny. Lucan emerges as a man given over to gambling, which finally destroyed him, but endowed with many good qualities, which attracted a lively circle of friends.

I don't think the chief superintendent realises, in his otherwise well-judged tale, that gambling is not in itself a blameful activity. On the contrary, it offers a stimulating and amusing way of life to its followers if - and always if - it is kept within limits.

Is Lucan still alive? Our (former) detective firmly believes so. He offers a quite plausible theory (but with no real evidence to back it up) that Lucan could have flown to Portugal and from there to Mozambique, and is now holed up somewhere in the game reserves of Botswana.

He thinks Lucan played dice from time to time in his supposed 'afterlife' at the casino in Gaborone. This is where the author's understanding of gambling lets him down. Any casino in the world would have set about identifying a big player as a matter of course, which would have led to Lucan being discovered.

It is because Lucan was such a strong poker player and knew the odds that I doubt he is still alive, in Africa or indeed anywhere else. After all, his overriding sentiment at the end of his life as we know it was his devotion to his children.

If he were alive, he must know that he could return to England, stand trial, accept the consequences - whatever they might be - and still live to see his family grow up.

When asked what he would do if he suddenly saw John Lucan again, casino owner John Aspinall remarked: 'I would embrace him.'

As for myself, I would invite Lucan to sit down in the game for a couple of hours, before calling Scotland Yard.