Call of nature 'sent Maxwell overboard'

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The Independent Online

Financial Correspondent

Kevin Maxwell told an Old Bailey jury yesterday that he thought his father died after falling off his yacht while urinating over the side.

Robert Maxwell drowned in the Atlantic in November 1991 after disappearing from his pounds 10m yacht Ghislaine as it cruised off the Canary Islands. His death came as his media empire was on the brink of collapse. Kevin Maxwell told the jury in the six-month trial yesterday that his father was "quite a light sleeper" when on board the vessel, which had been bought in 1986.

"He would frequently get up in the middle of the night and found it more convenient, as a lot of men do on a boat, to relieve themselves over the side as it was moving," he said.

He told the court the spot the newspaper magnate chose was next to the lifeboat and was not protected by a handrail. "There are two thin pieces of wire there. It is not the safest part of the vessel," he said.

The court has heard the public perception that "it was suicide by a man who knew the game was up" caused a disastrous plunge in the share price of the Maxwell empire.

Questioned by his counsel Alun Jones QC about his reaction to his father's death, Kevin Maxwell recounted "the physical loss and the fact he hadn't been found, it was a terrible burden ... I was extremely concerned. We had no idea how my father had met his death. It occurred to me it might be an accident, might be murder, there might be a robbery motive.

"It never occurred to me that he would have committed suicide although that theory became popular as the days went by. I wasn't thinking on those lines and never did."

Mr Jones asked Kevin Maxwell about his emotions when he first heard his father was missing. "It was a terrible feeling. I can't really explain it. It was the shock of thinking that he had fallen off the boat," he said.

"I was breathless. It was extremely hard to do anything and I recall the physical shock of the news. It was a terrible blow."

He said he was in a meeting when he heard the news and had to ask the people present to leave so "I could gather myself. It's a very difficult thing to explain to people, even with the passage of years ... it was the physical loss and the fact he hadn't been found, it was a terrible burden."

Kevin Maxwell was giving his fifth day of evidence in the marathon Old Bailey trial in which he, his brother Ian Maxwell and the former Maxwell adviser Larry Trachtenberg are charged with conspiracy to defraud pension funds by misusing pounds 22m worth of shares in an Israeli company, Teva, to prop up the tottering Maxwell empire in the days following its founder's death.

All three deny the charges.