Son 'gripped with panic' after tycoon disappeared

The Maxwell Trial; Day 82
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The Independent Online

Financial Correspondent

Kevin Maxwell described on his fifth day of giving evidence at the six- month-old Maxwell trial the panic following the news of his father's disappearance at sea on 5 November 1991.

"It is very hard to explain the sense of panic," Kevin Maxwell told the Old Bailey, "I consider myself to be quite a calm and solid individual and I found myself almost unable to control myself physically, and I realised that if I didn't get a grip that I would probably suffer some kind of breakdown.

"I realised that despite not knowing where my father was, that a hell of a lot depended on not losing control and I therefore sat down and thought as logically as I could what had to be done."

Questioned by his counsel Alun Jones QC, Kevin Maxwell said he then made a "very urgent" check list of things to do. These included suspending the shares to prevent a "disorderly market" developing.

He also had to tell the company's stockbroker and the banks, the Stock Exchange and the company's lawyers. The brothers decided their mother should be flown out to oversee the search for her husband.

Kevin Maxwell said he and his brother opted to stay in London because they realised the shock for the group of losing his father, even temporarily, would be "a hell of a piece of news and someone would have to stay and mind the shop".

Meanwhile Ian Maxwell called a board meeting to inform the rest of the management about what was going on and to confirm Kevin Maxwell as the new chairman. This was done to avoid a "rudderless ship".

It took three-quarters of an hour to convince the Stock Exchange that the share price should be suspended. The Exchange said that such a move, based on the disappearance of a company head, was not in their "usual experience".

As the day unfolded a number of board meetings took place. Kevin Maxwell said he was appointed chairman of MCC and Ian Maxwell put in charge of Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).

By this time, a large crowd of journalists had gathered outside the group's Holborn headquarters, in London, and there was "tremendous" pressure for a statement. "We agreed to accept the inevitability of my father's death and we gave a statement in the entrance hall of MGN," he said.

One of Kevin Maxwell's priorities after his father's disappearance was to retrieve a certificate for the ownership of the Teva shares, which form one plank of the prosecution. Kevin Maxwell is accused of conspiring to defraud the pension funds by misusing the shares, the ownership of which has been called into question. He asked his mother to go to the yacht Ghislaine and search for the certificate. His mother found it on board and flew in the company jet to London.

It was pointed out to him that a pounds 23m repayment was due on MCC's jumbo loan within the next few days and he was extremely concerned that this should be paid on time because otherwise "in my view it was have sent a terrible and wrong signal to the banking community".

He told the court that in those days it was difficult to describe "the intensity of the meetings and phone calls and the amount of paper that was generated . . . and the confusion".

Questioned by Mr Jones about the attitude of the banks, Kevin Maxwell criticised Lehman Brothers, who held some shares as security, as "exceptionally aggressive and hostile" with no concern other than their own self-interest.

By contrast NatWest was "enormously supportive . . . supportive does not do adequate justice, they wanted to demonstrate a level of commitment and emotional support to myself and my brother".

He said his father had a 40-year connection with NatWest which had been a very successful and profitable relationship for both sides.

Kevin Maxwell quoted from a handwritten letter sent to him by NatWest's deputy chairman, Sir Edwin Nixon, after his father's death, expressing sympathy. Sir Edwin went on to say Robert Maxwell's "reputation with the bank was as a man who always kept his word. We shall miss him greatly".

Kevin Maxwell said he had personally received over 500 letters of condolence, and the family as a whole had received thousands. This year he had written about 150 letters to the people in the City who had written the letters of condolence asking them, in the context of the trial, to confirm the views of his father they held when he died. He received just eight replies.

He had written to Sir Edwin and the answer came back "from his lawyers, saying he couldn't and wouldn't answer".