Kevin's tears over father's death

Death of a tycoon: Robert Maxwell's widow and daughter-in-law speak of the final days; The Maxwell Trial:Day 103
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The Independent Online
Kevin Maxwell broke down and wept when told his father's body had been found, his wife told the Old Bailey yesterday.

Pandora Maxwell said that in the months before Robert Maxwell's death, Kevin's relationship with his father had been strained and he had made plans to leave the business to be a free man.

But news that his father had gone missing from his yacht had left him very upset. "He came home late that evening ... he said a body had been found, and he broke down and wept. It was the only time he did," she said.

Robert Maxwell's widow, Elizabeth Maxwell, told the court how she searched in vain to find a note left by her husband when she went on board his yacht the night of his death.

"At the time I really did think it was an accidental death, but I wondered also whether there was anything more sinister," she said. "In the middle of the night ... I woke up and tried to find if there was any handwritten note from Bob that he might have left for me. I got the idea that perhaps I could find a clue of some kind.

"I looked throughout the cabin and I also looked through his papers, but I could find nothing. About 5am, totally exhausted, I went to bed."

Asked by his counsel, Alun Jones QC, whether his disposal of Maxwell assets had been dishonest in a way the ordinary public would understand, Kevin Maxwell said it had not been. "I did not consider there was a prospect of the group's collapse and I remained confident of the surplus of assets over liabilities throughout the period we have been looking at," he said.

"I didn't believe that the risks we were taking were dishonest. I didn't believe that the group was going to collapse. I believed in the value of the assets and I believe my conduct would have been seen to have been honest.

"What was motivating me ... was a desire to save the group, not to put assets at risk."

Kevin Maxwell's wife, Pandora Maxwell, who gave evidence watched by her father and sisters, said Robert Maxwell was a "daunting, charismatic, frightening person".

In the months leading up to Maxwell's death, on 5 November 1991, her husband would leave for work before she got up and would not get home until 9 or 10 at night, she said.

His father would call him at any time of the day or night. "There appeared to be strain in the relationship. Kevin was working harder. That was obviously demands from his father," she said.

After the sale of Pergamon Press, the family business, in early 1991, Kevin's attitude to his father had changed. "He was maybe more critical or judgemental ... relations were very strained. He would come home and say they'd had an argument. Sometimes he said it had been a good day, they had sat down and had a beer at the end of the day.

"I know Kevin wanted to leave the business. We could never really be specific about when, but it was his intention in 91 to leave in 92 ...

"He wanted in a sense to be free, to be able to allow us all to lead a more normal life."

Mrs Maxwell said that after his father's funeral Kevin was determined the business would survive. "He was certainly optimistic that the group, although in crisis, was favourable," she said.

Dr Maxwell, 74, said her husband had groomed Kevin as the "heir apparent" but had not been able to let fall the reins of power.

"Although towards the end of his life Bob talked of retiring, it was obvious that he resented any power next to him, and in a peculiar way, although he was grooming his children to succeed him, he resented any initiative that they took," she said.

She said her relationship with her husband had been extremely strained since he told her in spring 1990 that he wanted a separation, but he found himself unable to carry out his decision and remained friendly and affectionate towards her.

At the age of 69 Maxwell would become very tired, she said. "He could even almost sleep standing and at the same time, within the next few minutes, he would fall into a complete conversation, an animated conversation. He was absolutely all there.

"He would go on the telephone and have a conversation with a head of state, or he would go into a conference with three people and be so totally in control."

Dr Maxwell, who said she made a living by lecturing on the Holocaust and also relied on the generosity of friends, said she was amazed and overawed by the funeral her husband was given in Israel, and proud of the high esteem in which he was held.

She said politicians, bankers, diplomats, wartime comrades, childhood friends, "family that we hardly knew", heads of state and the entire Israeli government attended the funeral and they received 5,000 letters of condolence.