Rifkind scuppered inquiry on Maxwell

Fears that an inquiry into the death of publisher Robert Maxwell in 1991 would offend the Spanish and be used to re-open claims for a £20m insurance payment were behind the Government's refusal to sanction an official investigation.

Fears that an inquiry into the death of publisher Robert Maxwell in 1991 would offend the Spanish and be used to re-open claims for a £20m insurance payment were behind the Government's refusal to sanction an official investigation.

Papers released by the National Archives at Kew, indicate why the then Secretary of State for Transport, Malcolm Rifkind, opted not to have an inquiry.

Many questions still remain over the death of Maxwell, 68, owner of the Daily Mirror, who went missing from the Lady Ghislaine while it was cruising in the Canary Islands; his body was recovered fthe following day. Many believe he had committed suicide over his pillaging of about £400m from the Mirror Group Newspapers pension fund but he may have fallen off after suffering a heart attack, later given as the cause of death. Other theories have included the suggestion that he was the victim of an execution by Mossad, the Israeli secret service; some of the many wounds on his body were never satisfactorily explained.

The file indicates that in the aftermath, officials debated the need to hold a Death Inquiry under the Merchant Shipping Act. It takes place in about half such deaths at sea.

Gabe Thomas, the Registrar General of the Register of Shipping and Seamen, warned that an inquiry in London would be "right at the heart of the media machine" and would "permit sensation-seekers easily to attend and would, almost certainly, cause the inquiry to be a drawn out affair".

The Foreign Office was arguing a decision to hold such an inquiry by the Consul in Tenerife would be misunderstood. "The press would assume that the inquiry was being launched because we were not satisfied with the conduct of the Spanish inquiries - it is unlikely the enquiry would have the co-operation of the Spanish authorities."

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