Mussolini family at war over call for exhumation of 'Il Duce'

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Guido Mussolini, a grandson of the Italian dictator, has provoked an angry row in the Mussolini family after demanding that the corpse of the man they called "Il Duce" be exhumed.

Mr Mussolini, 69, who works in a cheese factory in Rome, asked the public prosecutor of Como to order a judicial inquiry into his grandfather's death because he wants to know the truth about how the dictator died. The corpse would be exhumed as part of the inquiry.

The defeated leader, wearing a German uniform, was trying to flee to Switzerland when Communist partisans captured him in April 1945. They were under orders to hand him to the Allies to be tried, but instead shot him and his lover Clara Petacci dead. The bodies were strung up in Piazzale Loreto in Milan. Credit for the execution was claimed by a partisan called Walter Audisio, but his version has long been held in doubt by historians.

A keen amateur historian, Mr Mussolini has been obsessed by his grandfather's fate for years. He has assembled a committee of a dozen historians and lawyers to try to shed some light on it. "I'm not looking for anything, not for revenge, not for money nor anything else," he said. "I just want someone to tell me the forename and surname of the person who killed him in such an ignoble way when they were supposed to hand him over alive to the Americans. Before I die I want to know who I must curse."

But for now it is other members of the family who are cursing him, most vociferously his cousin Alessandra. A glamour model turned neo-fascist politician, Ms Mussolini last year broke away from Alleanza Nazionale, the party that inherited Mussolini's political legacy, to set up a more extreme group.

"Let's leave my grandfather in peace," the MEP said. "I will fight this with all my force, with my heart and with the law. No one consulted me. To rewrite this episode of history they should go to the documents, for example the secret ones in the Vatican, and testimony that may have been overlooked. But to do this to a body that has already been so maltreated is just not right."

She went on: "To decide to do such a thing there should first be a family meeting which reaches a unanimous decision. But there never was one, and it's not enough for one person to decide on his own. As long as I'm alive they're not touching my grandfather."

Guido Mussolini was equally tart: "She can just shut up and mind her own business," he spat. "We asked her to join the committee but she refused because she's in politics. And here she is, politicking again."

But Italian historians are mostly siding with Alessandra. "It's a macabre and useless proposal," said Professor Giovanni Sabatucci, of Rome's La Sapienza University. "I find this mania for exhumation absurd and deplorable. The most we would learn is the number of bullets." Nicholas Farrell, the British author of a biography of Mussolini, commented: "Digging up the corpse wouldn't alter anything. There have been countless words written on this subject, innumerable books published. The Communists killed him. We know that. The only real mystery is who pulled the trigger."

Last night, an Italian prosecutor, Alessandro Maria Lodolini, was quoted as saying that he would not accept the exhumation request. His formal decision is expected later this month.

Guido Mussolini's initiative has provided scholars with an opportunity to give another airing to the conspiracy theory, according to which Mussolini's murder was ordered by Winston Churchill and carried out by British agents. Churchill, this theory goes, was anxious to stop Mussolini talking about deals he allegedly offered the dictator to try to stop him from entering the war. However, no "smoking gun" letter between the leaders has ever turned up, and there seems to have been no powerful motive for assassination.

Guido Mussolini's lawyer, Luciano Randazzo, said he was surprised by the controversy the exhumation request had caused. "There is nothing macabre or bizarre about it, it's merely the logical consequence of our request for the opening of a judicial inquiry," he said.

Of Alessandra Mussolini, he added: "I'm amazed that she is more concerned about the act of exhumation than about the crime committed by the person who took the initiative of killing the Fascist leader, denying him a fair trial."