Lawyer voices his concern for fate of missing earl

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The Independent Online

Fears for the safety of a British aristocrat who vanished in the south of France more than two weeks ago were growing last night.

Fears for the safety of a British aristocrat who vanished in the south of France more than two weeks ago were growing last night.

At first it was thought that the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, who is a colourful figure on the French Riviera social scene, had disappeared with his latest paramour. But yesterday his French lawyer and girlfriend spoke about their concern for the 66-year-old, who divides his time between France and homes in London and East Sussex.

Thierry Bensaude, a lawyer who represents the Earl, said his client had been "worried about strange things happening to him". He said: "The Earl is extremely generous to his friends and may have been taken advantage of." He added that he did not believe the peer had taken his life or had gone into hiding.

M. Bensaude said he contacted the police after the Earl failed to get in touch. "He usually calls me every few days so it is very mysterious. He is a generous and distinguished man who falls in love easily and meets people in bars who are as far removed from his social background as it is possible to be," M. Bensaude said.

The Earl's girlfriend, a 33-year-old hostess from Cannes who has not been named, told the Nice Matin newspaper: "Besides our age differences we were in the middle of building something together. I don't know any woman who wouldn't have pursued such a man, so attentive and generous to everyone."

The three-times married Earl arrived in Nice on 3 November. He met with his third wife, the Morocco-born Jamila Ben M'Barek, also thought to be a hostess, on 5 November. He checked in to the Noga Hilton in Cannes for one night the next day but has been not seen since.

A friend of the Earl who drank with him at the Carlton hotel bar in Cannes said the peer had money troubles. "He had been worried about a theft at his home," he said.

The Earl's second wife, Lady Christina Shaftesbury, who lives at the family seat in Wimborne, Dorset, and is the mother of his two sons, said all the family was extremely concerned. His sister, Lady Frances Ashley Cooper left her home in the south of France yesterday to join the family in England.

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