Maxwell knew of war crimes inquiry, says Dalyell

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The Independent Online

Eleven days before his mysterious death, Robert Maxwell had "screeched" down the phone to a friend that "the bastards were dredging up" his Second World War record and accusing him of murdering civilian Germans.

In a letter published in The Independent today, Tam Dalyell, the retired father of the House of Commons, says that a conversation he had with Maxwell shows that the media press baron knew he was being investigated for war crimes.

Yesterday The Independent revealed that Scotland Yard's war crimes unit had been investigating an alleged shooting of a German mayor towards the end of the Second World War. Two detectives had begun interviewing members of Maxwell's platoon about the killing.

If found guilty Maxwell, a former captain in the British Army, would have been the first Briton to be prosecuted for war crimes in this country.

The War Crimes Act 1991 was enacted six months before Maxwell's body was found floating in the Atlantic on 5 November 1991 after he had been on holiday on his yacht.The police file shows that by this time officers had established the place in Germany where Maxwell allegedly killed an unarmed civilian in cold blood.

The incident on 2 April 1945 was disclosed by Maxwell's authorised biographer, Joe Haines, in 1988. Maxwell is quoted as describing how he tried to capture a German town by threatening the population with a mortar bombardment, a tactic that had proved successful on a nearby village hours earlier.

In a letter to his wife, published in the book, Maxwell writes: "... so I sent one of the Germans to go and fetch the mayor of the town. In half an hour's time he turned up and I told him that he had to go to tell the Germans to surrender and hang the white flag otherwise the town will be destroyed. One hour later he came back saying that the soldiers will surrender and the white flag was put up, so we marched off, but as soon as we marched off a German tank opened fire on us. Luckily he missed so I shot the mayor and withdrew."

The Metropolitan Police file says: "The reported circumstances of the shooting gave rise to an allegation of War Crimes. To some extent, the reporting of the shooting incident were confirmed by Mr Maxwell in an interview he gave in 1988 to the journalist Brian Walden."

A senior member of the Mirror Group told The Independent yesterday that Maxwell had told him that he had shot the mayor because he hated "grovelling cowards". The conversation took place in 1987 in Maxwell's office, when Terry Pattinson, then a union leader, was defending an executive who had been sacked.

Maxwell told him that he had shot the man through the temple after "the mayor had unfurled white sheets of surrender" and that "his blood splattered all over the wall".

Mr Pattinson said that in Maxwell's account of the incident he had shot the mayor because he thought he had laid a trap for his men. "When the troops stormed the town hall and captured the survivors Maxwell asked the mayor why he had lured his men into an ambush. The distraught mayor replied that an SS man had stuck a machine-gun up his backside. Maxwell then shot him through the head as a warning to others." When Mr Pattinson pointed out that the mayor had had little choice he replied: "I hate grovelling cowards."