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22Feb

'The man was obviously a crook': the decline and fall of Robert Maxwell

Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch were once the two biggest power brokers in British politics. But their fierce rivalry paved the way for Maxwell’s demise

The dinner dances hosted by Robert and Betty Maxwell at their Italianate mansion in Oxford, Headington Hill Hall, were reckoned, even by hardened partygoers, to be in a class of their own. Every year on Maxwell’s birthday, the great and good would descend in their droves to enjoy his hospitality. Labour party grandees would rub shoulders with captains of industry, leading scientists with newspapers editors.

But the party to celebrate Maxwell’s 65th birthday in June 1988 was confidently predicted to outdo them all in terms of both opulence and pomp. The US president, Ronald Reagan, sent a telegram of congratulations: “Nancy and I are delighted to join in the chorus of appreciation.” So did the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who extolled Maxwell’s “sense of direction and decision” – very similar, she noted, to her own. As far as the then Labour leader, Neil Kinnock was concerned, “If Bob Maxwell didn’t exist, no one could invent him.” Kinnock went on to pay tribute to Maxwell’s “basic convictions of liberty and fair play”.

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