The Spencers: Earl pays price to keep infidelities under wraps

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The Independent Online
Earl Spencer's eight-year marriage will end today with a quickie divorce. According to Ian Burrell, the pounds 2m settlement was the price the Earl was prepared to pay for his wife's silence on `marital confidences'.

"It won't last," clucked some observers at St Mary's Church, near Althorp, when Charles Edward Maurice, the ninth Earl Spencer, pledged himself to a beautiful model. The couple had met only a few weeks earlier and Darius Guppy, who was later to be jailed for a bogus jewel robbery insurance scam, was the best man.

Sure enough, in a rubber-stamping ceremony today at court room number 17 at the Supreme Court in Cape Town, the Earl's marriage to Victoria Lockwood will be annulled.

It was September 1989 when Victoria Lockwood trailed limply beside Charles Althorp at their wedding. She looked utterly miserable and far from looking happy he looked sombre, as though he was carrying out another ancestral duty.

When, in an announcement from his bathtub, Lord Spencer first told his wife that he believed their relationship was scuppered, he can have had little idea that intimate details of the couple's problems would be relayed to the world's media.

That, to a degree, is what has happened during what was supposed to have been a hearing which would simply decide whether the couple's divorce should be heard in England or South Africa.

Instead, lawyers for Lady Spencer alleged that her husband had between 10 and 12 affairs while she was fighting to overcome drink and drug dependencies.

It could have been worse. The full story of Lord Spencer's alleged adultery would have emerged had the Countess been allowed to take the witness stand.

Yet after hours of discussions, the prospect of that scenario was dispelled by a settlement, announced in the early hours of yesterday morning and believed to include a pounds 2m clean break pay-out.

Significantly, a pre-prepared statement said: "A fundamental term of the agreement is that we undertake to the courts of South Africa and England not to breach our marital confidences or to give further details of this settlement."

Yesterday the two legal teams met in chambers to sort out the final details.

Difficulties in drawing up the papers and sorting out bank details were understood to be behind the delay, which meant the divorce could not go through yesterday.

Lord Spencer, 33, wanted the divorce to be heard in South Africa but his wife wanted it in England where any settlement was likely to be higher.

She sought a pounds 3.75m clean break settlement but her husband offered only a lump sum of pounds 300,000 and other perks including a house in a smart suburb of Cape Town.

The family fortune is estimated at pounds 100m but the Earl said most of his assets were tied up with the Althorp family home in Northamptonshire.

Yesterday at Althorp, security was stepped up amid fears that intruders were trying to reach the grave of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Earl's spokeswoman, Shelley-Anne Claircourt, said that a sophisticated security system was put in after two people tried to climb perimeter walls.

She said the incident occurred two months ago, more than a mile from the grave site, and the police were not involved.

Ms Claircourt added that the plans for a fence around Diana's island resting place were not introduced as a security measure. "They are decorative iron gates being put up in the vicinity of the island," she said.