After helping him escape to Switzerland, Lord Lucan was killed by his rich friends who feared they would be found out, novelist Peter James has claimed. The aristocrat disappeared in 1974 after allegedly murdering his children's nanny, Sandra Rivett. His wife, Veronica Mary Duncan, was also beaten in the attack at their family home.

After helping the debt-ridden peer flee to Switzerland, Lord Lucan – born Richard John Bingham in 1934 – repeatedly tried to contact his children. Concerned that he would lead authorities straight to them, his friends arranged his demise, according to James, who claims to have contact with Lucan's former circle.

"According to my source, Lucan's wealthy friends flew him in a light plane to a private airstrip in Switzerland. He was put up in a chateau near Montreux. Days later, Lucan said he had to call his children to tell them that he was OK," James told the Daily Mirror.

"One friend, most likely the late John Aspinall, told him, 'You're never going to see your kids again.'" He added: "Aspinall and his friends panicked and thought they were done for. They had him bumped off in Switzerland, Mafia-style, and the body buried."

In February 2016, the 7th Earl of Lucan's death certificate was issued some 42 years after his disappearance, allowing his son, Lord Bingham, to finally inherit the title as 8th Earl.

A string of sightings of Lucan have been reported in Ireland, France, South Africa, New Zealand and India since the aristocrat vanished. The first reported sighting came in January 1975 after he was supposedly seen in Melbourne, Australia.

Some of the more bizarre spottings of Lord Lucan include a 2007 claim that he was living in a Land Rover in New Zealand with a pet possum called Redfern and a goat named Camilla. The man turned out to be Roger Woodgate, who said he was 10 years younger than Lucan and about five inches shorter.

Four years prior to that theory, former Scotland Yard detective Duncan McLaughlin claimed Lucan was actually living in India as a hippie known as Barry Halpin, known as "Jungle Barry". On this occasion, Halpin turned out to be a 1960s musician from the Merseyside folk scene.