Otherwise known as the Mystery of the Vanished Earl Continued.

Some might well recall the strange case of the disappearance of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 10th Earl of Shaftesbury who was last seen on the 6th November 2004 when he checked into Noga Hilton Hotel at Cannes in the south of France, and whose battered body was eventually found at the bottom of a ravine at the Vallon de la Rague, some six miles west of Cannes on the 5th April 2005.

At the time of his disappearance the Earl was married to Jamila M'Barek, a former nightclub hostess and call girl, although a few months prior to his disappearance he had transferred his affections to a certain Nadia Orche, whom he had met at a hostess bar in Cannes in April 2004. Apparently by this time his marriage to M'Barek had broken down, and within weeks of meeting Miss Orche he had set up home with her in a flat in nearby Vence, with the apparent intention of divorcing Ms M'Barek and making Nadia Orche the fourth in the series of women able to style themselves as the Countess of Shaftesbury.

After his mysterious disappearance in November 2004, his family back home in England began to be concerned for his safety and pressed the French authorities to investigate. In the circumstances suspicion very naturally fell on the Earl's estranged wife Jamila M'Barek, who was indeed arrested by the French police on the 25th February 2005 on suspicion of involvement in her husband's disappearance. Her brother Mohammed M'Barek was similarly arrested in Germany when the police established that he had been in the south of France during the early part of November.

The subsequent discovery of the 10th Earl's body in April 2005 only served to confirm the suspicion of foul play and whilst most of the Earl's remains had been consumed by wild animals, a forensic examination of his skeleton revealed a number of injuries, including a double fracture to the larynx, which strongly suggested strangulation as the cause of death. At various times both Jamila and her brother admitted their involvement in the death of the unfortunate 10th Earl of Shaftesbury and the French authorities decided to charge them both with the crime of premeditated murder, and the the trial of Jamila M'Barek and Mohammed M'Barek eventually opened at the Palais de Justice in Nice on the 19th May 2007.


The trial began with the report of the investigating magistrate Catherine Bonnici, who described Jamila M'Barek as "an escort girl who loved the high life" who "chose the life of a kept woman, with multiple affairs with men she chose for their bank accounts and their assets". However having struck gold when she married the 10th Earl she then faced "looming financial disaster" in the event of a divorce and therefore set out "consciously and without constraint, to accomplish his assassination". It seems that in October 2002, Ms M’Barek had convinced the Earl that she was pregnant with his child, and as a result, the Earl made out a new will leaving Ms M’Barek certain valuable properties in Ireland and France. Two years later, with no child forthcoming and with the Earl's affections directed elsewhere divorce proceedings had begun and Ms M’Barek feared losing her valuable inheritance.

Naturally Jamila M'Barek saw things quite differently. She claimed that her marriage to the Earl "was a curse", describing her husband as "a loner" who "had no friends" which is why "he drank a lot" and sought to portray him as a as a "violent, sex-crazed alcoholic hooked on cocaine". Whilst she freely admitted that her brother had indeed killed her husband at her Cannes flat in November 2004, she claimed that it was all an accident. ("There was blood on the floor. I did not know if it was my brother or my husband's blood. My brother couldn't believe my husband was dead.") She further admitted that she then helped her brother load the body into the boot of his black BMW, although according to Jamila, "He forced me to put the body in the boot of the car. He forced me to follow him as I thought we were going to a hospital. Then he asked me to go away." (Strangely enough, no one felt it odd that she should regard it as common practice to transport an injured person to hospital in the boot of the car.)

Her brother Mohammed M'Barek took a smilar line by proclaiming "I am innocent, my sister is innocent. It was an accident". According to Mohammed's account of events, he had been drinking heavily and smoking cannabis when he was confronted with the "excited and aggressive" Earl of Shaftesbury. A brawl then ensued during which he "accidentally" throttled the Earl whilst attempting to restrain the over-excited peer, although Mohammed was rather hazy on the details; "I don't know how it happened. It happened in a minute". He further claimed that he had done everything he could to save the Earl including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and heart massage, but it "was too late. He had left us".

As a result Mohammed was apparently most upset that the French authorities had kept him in "prison for two-and-a-half years for nothing", and concluded that "French justice is scandalous", apparently outraged that the French regarded the dumping of an inconveniently dead body in a ravine as a crime. He also appeared to blame the Earl's family for his predicament, claiming that they were "the guilty ones", you the rich, who want to take his inheritance"


One can understand why the French authorities suspected that there was a conspiracy to murder the Earl as in the week following the Earl's 'disappearance' Jamila M'Barek transferred the sum of €150,000 into her brother's bank account. The prosecution naturally saw this as payment for services rendered, although Jamila claimed she had given her brother the money in order that he could buy a house for their sick mother.

In her defence Jamila denied that she had any financial motive in wishing her husband dead and claimed that she had no need of his £6 million fortune, as she had "always been prosperous". The source of her prosperity was claimed to be the generosity of certain wealthy individuals who were prepared to pay for her company, and she even went so far as to name both the actors George Clooney and Bruce Willis and the former tennis player Bjorn Borg as being amongst her former clients. (It almost goes without saying that all three denied ever meeting Jamila and declined to attend court to comment on her allegation.) Jamila further claimed that the arguments she had with her husband had nothing to do with money and arose only as a result of the Earl's excessive sexual demands brought on by his programme of testosterone injections.

The prosecution were however able to produce a witness named Catherine Gurtler, who once ran an escort service in Geneva. Ms Gurtler claimed the 10th Earl was one of her clients and that she had introduced him to 'Sarah' aka Jamila. Her opinion of Jamila was that she was only interested in making money; "When she wasn't working for agencies, she was working in hostess bars. She wanted to take advantage of the earl as much as possible." Strangely enough for someone whose defence was based on the claim that she received money from wealthy men in return for sex, Jamilla was outraged by this suggestion; "I am a modest girl from a traditional Muslim family. What she has said disgusts me." Her lawyer, Franck De Vita, sought to explain the contradiction by describing her as "an old-fashioned style courtesan".

Strangely enough Catherine Gurtler was employed by British Airways in Geneva at the time of giving evidence, (although in what capacity wasn't reported) and took the opportunity to claim that the Earl's family owed her money. Apparently the 10th Earl had paid for his time with Sarah-Jamila be means of a cheque dated 2nd February 2002 for £1,279, drawn on his account at Drummonds Bank which had subsequently been returned unpaid. Ms Gurtler was apparently annoyed that the Earl's family now refused to honour the debt.

The 10th Earl's most recent paramour Nadia Orche also gave evidence and accused her predecessor of treating the Earl "like a cash machine" and claimed that "their relationship was based on money" whilst she in contrast "offered the lord love and support." In support of the contention that Ms Orche was indeed about to replace Ms M'Barek the prosecution produced a fortune teller named Martine Dupres-Cordier, whom the 10th Earl had consulted on the 4th November. Ms Dupres-Cordier was able to testify that the "lord told me he wanted to divorce his wife. He said he was very much in love with Nadia." When she expressed some surprise that someone of the Earl's advanced age was contemplating divorce, he simply explained that "This is the way we do it in my family and we live until 90." In any event in return for her fee of €50 she predicted that only "happiness lay ahead" for the Earl, a woefully inaccurate prediction as she was forced to admit.

However perhaps the most telling piece of evidence against Jamila M'Barek, was the fact that examination of the records of her mobile telephone usage revealed that she (or at least her mobile phone) had visited the exact location where her husband's body was found some two days before his death. Although at first she denied ever being there, she eventually admitted that it was "possible" she and her brother had indeed previously visited the spot. The French police had also recorded a telephone conversation between Jamila and her sister in which she gleefully recounted how she was going to blame her brother for the whole thing.

After deliberating for two hours, the jury returned guilty verdicts against both the M'Bareks. They were both sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment but have since announced their intention to exercise their automatic right to appeal which, under French law, will result in a retrial of the case.


SOURCES

From The Guardian

  • Cote d'Azur death of the lord who liked bats, birds and brothels, May 23, 2007
  • Earl was told of future happiness 24 hours before death, May 23, 2007
  • Murdered earl lived in fear of wife, court told, May 24, 2007
  • Family neglected peer, says murder accused in trial outburst, May 25, 2007

From The Times

  • Widow in court over 'conspiracy to kill Earl May 22, 2007
  • Brother-in-law denies murdering Earl May 22, 2007
  • The earl, his nightclub hostess wife and a case of murder on the Riviera May 22, 2007
  • Earl’s widow and her brother get 25 years in jail for murder, May 26, 2007

From the Daily Telegraph

  • Marriage to earl was cursed, says wife accused of plotting his murder 23/05/2007
  • 'Scandalous' trial of Earl of Shaftesbury's killer 23/05/2007
  • Lord Shaftesbury feared for his life, says lover 24/05/2007
  • Earl's wife was £1,000-a-night escort 25/05/2007
  • Earl's widow gets 25 years for his murder 27/05/2007
  • Earl's widow jailed for his murder 27/05/2007
  • Prostitute who killed for money 27/05/2007

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