Misery in the maxwell house

His widow, Betty, a diminutive Frenchwoman, is 80, but she still on occasion blinks rapidly when spoken to, as if words had the power to injure. It is a small legacy of living with a monster who believed in two types of relationship - buyer and seller; master or slave.

However, in spite of it, she has, in the ten years since his death, freed herself from Robert Maxwell and re-invented herself as Dr Elisabeth Maxwell-Meynard, a champion of racial, cultural and religious harmony.

It is a remarkable achievement, but no more laudable than that of Fergie Millar, 75, a former Scottish newspaper assistant editor, who survived into his own old age, in spite of losing thousands of pounds from his pension fund to the thievery of Betty’s dead husband.

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Millar lives quietly in East Kilbride; Dr Maxwell-Meynard resides in what she calls a "microscopic" terraced house. It is, however, owned by the Duke of Westminster on his estate in London’s Pimlico district, and its perceived size, relative to her previous palatial Oxfordshire residence, may be relative.

Ten years ago this month Maxwell, 68, the media tycoon who listed greed and deception as redeeming qualities, died. His body was recovered from the sea off Tenerife. He had fallen or jumped or was pushed from the Lady Ghislaine, the yacht he named after his ninth, youngest, and favourite child.

If he was despised in life, he was hated in death when it emerged he had stolen 440 million from the pension fund of Mirror Group Newspapers. He was, officially, the biggest thief in British criminal history.

The money shored up his corporate house of cards and death freed him from the consequences of dissimulation, years of making subordinates unwitting accomplices.

Mercifully, the bulk of the money was recovered courtesy of a government rescue, the militancy of a Mirror pensioners’ group, and the efforts of Lord Cuckney, who browbeat financial institutions into coughing up.

It meant Millar, and 32,000 others, received pensions. "Not as much as it should have been, in terms of lump sums and payments," he says, but adds: "At least it was not all lost. I’m proud I was part of the pensioners’ association from the start, even before Maxwell died, when we suspected what he was up to."

The success of the campaign might have drawn a line under the life of Maxwell. He was gone, and if it is true that the value of life is measured by the tears shed at its passing, then his existence had little value.

However, in spite of that, his shadow still exercises power enough to affect the lives of those who were nearest to him, notably his seven surviving children, forever tainted by association.

Maxwell had nine children. His oldest son, Michael, died in a road accident in 1968. His second-eldest daughter, Karine, died from leukaemia in 1957. Those who survived have enjoyed little luck.

Kevin Maxwell, 44, today stands on the edge of ruin. His communications group, Telemonde, has losses of 93.2 million and he owes creditors 61.6 million. Kevin Maxwell was, in 1992, declared Britain’s biggest ever bankrupt after his father’s empire collapsed (the bankruptcy was later discharged). He is presently a director of 24 companies, eight of which are in insolvency proceedings. Kevin laughed off suggestions that his latest company was facing bankruptcy, but it is understood he has until Christmas to save it.

His brother, Ian, 42, is less high-profile, but he, too, does not have problems to seek. He is a director of 31 companies, four of which face insolvency. He also works for Westbourne Communications, the public relations company which represents Telemonde.

A City insider says: "If there were ever two more damaged people, suffering from the legacy of their monstrous father, then I don’t know them.

"They sit today with their heads in their hands, with no conception of what it means to live a normal life. Maxwell’s widow, their children and anybody associated with Maxwell were victims.

"There are lighter moments, of course. We in the City still have a laugh over Her Majesty’s incumbent Secretary of State for Scotland once accompanying Maxwell into a public lavatory."

Helen Liddell worked for Maxwell for four years from 1988 as director of corporate affairs for his Scottish newspapers, the Daily Record and Sunday Mail.

During a visit to Edinburgh, Liddell, acting as Maxwell’s "bag lady", stuck so close to her boss she inadvertently followed him into the gents. The anecdote is still relished by her enemies and, even ten years on, re-emerges, as it did at a recent dinner for MSPs and political journalists. The festivities included a caption contest for a picture showing Liddell, Henry McLeish and a dummy. Inevitably, one MSP suggested: "Look, Helen, it’s Robert Maxwell." It is one of the few light moments associated with the man.

His widow says: "There was nothing I could have done to alter what happened. I was not involved so I didn’t know what was happening." At present Dr Maxwell-Meynard is on the committee of the Anglo-Israel Association, a charity that fosters good relations between the two countries. "Everything was sacrificed and in the end the children and I were to pay a heavy price," she says.

They continue to pay a price. Ghislaine, Maxwell’s favourite, is a Manhattan socialite, who is Prince Andrew’s "social fixer" in New York, but she is said to be deeply unhappy because her partner appears not to want to marry her. Ghislaine, 39, continues to be Maxwell’s main apologist.

She shares a 30 million penthouse in New York with Jeffrey Epstein, a financier. She is said to be desperately keen to marry. Some unkindly suggest that she uses her friendship with Prince Andrew as a means to pressure Epstein.

Ghislaine is her father’s daughter. He made her a director of Oxford United FC and tailor-made a New York company for her. She is extremely secretive about her affairs and describes herself as an internet operator.

The internet made her sisters, the twins, Isabel and Christine, 50, a fortune. Their success was based on a company which produced a search engine called Magellan, which they sold to Excite for 11.25 million of Excite shares.

Magellan was part of the McKinley Group, which is led by Isabel’s former husband, David Hayden. Isabel also has shares in CommTouch, an Israeli internet firm, but it is understood that her holding of 9.5 million has dropped in value to 300,000. She lives with her son, Alex, in a 500,000 apartment in New York.

All of Maxwell’s children have left behind a string of broken relationships or damaged lives.

Anne Maxwell, 53, is the eldest daughter. She aspired to acting, and worked on television series before giving it up to train as a nursery teacher. Nothing has been heard of her since Maxwell’s death, although she is understood to remain in contact with her mother.

Then, there is Philip, 51, or "poor Philip", the eldest surviving son, who embarked on a glittering academic career but was last heard of living in a London bedsit, where he is apparently toying with a plan to write a book.

Philip escaped Maxwell and probably paid for it. He won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, and embraced academic life. Rarely seen, he met and married his Argentinian wife, Nilda. He is now separated from her and their child.

The insider adds: "It has the feel of a damaged dynasty, with the superficial appearance of wealth, but without emotional substance. Even today, the legacy of Maxwell can continue to materially affect those in the present."

None more so that Geoffrey Robinson, the former Paymaster General, who is temporarily suspended from the Commons for "inadvertently" misleading MPs over an alleged 200,000 payment from the late Maxwell.

The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee said Robinson was guilty of a "serious breach" of rules for failing to come clean over the money.

The committee had earlier this year found Robinson guilty, but did not immediately punish the MP, who was given three months to prove he did not receive a cheque for 200,000 from Maxwell.

The alleged payment was for "management services" for AM Lock, a subsidiary of Hollis Industries, an engineering firm Robinson bought from Maxwell.

Robinson denied receiving payment and employed accountants to locate where the money went. They could not. Robinson claimed there had been no "deliberate wrongdoing". The committee offered some comfort: "We do not assume that payment was made to, or benefited, Robinson." Robinson was fortunate. Dead or alive, those associated with Maxwell are rarely offered any comfort.