Churchill 'ordered killing of Mussolini'

Benito Mussolini was not killed by Italian partisans but by two secret agents acting on orders from Winston Churchill. That is the startling conclusion of a new investigation into the death of Il Duce.

Britain's wartime Prime Minister was desperate, an Italian documentary claims, to prevent secret letters coming to light in which he had tried to induce Italy to make a separate peace with the Allies. This was in defiance of his agreement with President Franklin Roosevelt at Casablanca that the war could end only with the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. The programme, co-produced by a veteran American journalist, Peter Tompkins, and to be broadcast on RAI, Italian state television, tomorrow alleges that it was to prevent these embarrassing letters coming to light that Churchill ordered the murder of Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci.

The film's credibility hinges on the evidence of former Italian partisan Bruno Lonati, who says he was one of the two-man team given the task of getting rid of the couple. The history books say Mussolini and Petacci were executed by partisans at the gates of a villa near Lake Como at 4.10pm on 28 April 1945. Subsequently their corpses were exhibited hanging upside down in a piazza in Milan.

But according to Mr Lonati, the secret assassination actually took place more than five hours earlier. He claims that he acted in tandem with a British Special Operations Executive agent codenamed Captain John, a Briton of Sicilian descent, real name Robert Maccarone, who had been sent to Italy with the specific mission of eliminating Mussolini.

Mr Lonati says that they went to the house near Lake Como where the couple had been held since their arrest, escorted them down a lane that led to the lake, stood them against a fence and opened fire with Sten guns. When they were dead, he claims, the British agent took out a camera and photographed them with Mr Lonati besides them. "Captain John" also referred to "very important documents" that he was ordered to retrieve from Mussolini.

Mr Lonati first advanced his claims to be Mussolini's assassin more than 10 years ago. He found few takers for the story. Peter Tompkins, who was himself a secret agent with the Allies in Rome in 1944, insists the account checks out. But a key piece of evidence - the photo of Mr Lonati with the bodies - is missing. Mr Tompkins believes that it may be in the possession of the British Embassy in Rome. The programme also repeats an old claim that the trips Churchill made to the Italian lakes after the war, supposedly to paint landscapes, were actually for the purpose of retrieving the letters.

But Mussolini's most recent biographer, Nicholas Farrell, says: "All the letters that have emerged are crude forgeries. The only genuine letters that exist between Churchill and Mussolini are two, written just before the war, in which Churchill begs Mussolini not to go into the war."

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