24 MAY 1997, Page 34

White Mischief continued

Simon Courtauld

DIANA LADY DELAMERE AND THE LORD ERROLL MURDER by Leda Farrant PDS, £13.99, £8.99, pp. 180 Did she do it, or didn't she? The settler families of 1940s Kenya were never in much doubt that it was Diana, and not her husband of a few weeks and more than twice her age, Sir Henry (`Jock') Delves Broughton, who shot dead her lover, the Earl of Erroll, in his Buick on the Nairobi- Ngong road one January night during the second world war. For well over half a century the white Kenyan community, which still congregates in that delightfully anachronistic watering-hole, the Muthaiga Country Club (where husband, wife and lover dined together on the fateful night), has been almost unanimous in saying — though not too loudly until after she had died in 1987 — that Diana dunnit.

Among the many amateur detectives out- side Africa for whom this unsolved murder mystery has provided endless fascination (sex, drugs and titles have always been a potent mix) were Cyril Connolly and James Fox, resulting in the highly enjoyable book, White Mischief, published in 1982, and followed by a rather less entertaining film. Fox's conclusion was that Delves Broughton, who had been tried and acquit- ted of the murder and committed suicide the following year at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, had unquestionably been the killer. Now we have this book, by an Italian-born Kenyan resident who died two years ago, declaring that Diana was guilty after all.

The book has a foreword by Lord Delamere, whose father became, in 1955, Diana's fourth husband. One may assume, therefore, that he, like Delves Broughton's son Evelyn, thought he had a murderer for a stepmother. Leda Farrant acknowledges the help of a large number of named people, and many more unidentified, but the book really amounts to little more than an accumulation of gossip. She was diagnosed as having terminal cancer when she began to write this book, which may explain why it lacks any rigorous consideration of the evidence, either that which she produces or which Connolly and Fox unearthed. But some of the anecdotal material is new: we learn that Diana, apart from an impressive string of heterosexual affairs which would almost qualify her for the record books, had one or two lesbian lovers, possibly including June Carberry, 'a drunken tart, and common with it', who was physically attracted to her and whose bed she apparently shared on the night of Erroll's murder. Frank Greswolde- Williams, supplier of cocaine to Happy Valley, who once made the mistake of offering some to the Prince of Wales at dinner at the Muthaiga Club, is revealed as Barbara Cartland's godfather. In later years Diana shot one of her lovers (in the balls) and shot at two others who dared to try to end their relationship or make advances towards someone else.

It is tempting to conclude from such behaviour that Diana might have dealt similarly, though rather more effec- tively, with 'Joss' Erroll, who was once described to me as 'an appalling shit who needed killing'. He was known to have been short of money at the time and may well have decided he could not afford to keep Diana for much longer, whether or not she received the £5,000 a year which Delves Broughton had allegedly promised her in the event of a divorce. Erroll had another mistress, who had gone to South Africa and may have been about to return. James Fox tracked down Diana's maid, Dorothy Wilks, who recalled that her mistress and Erroll were having a row in the Delves Broughton house at Karen shortly before he was killed. Certainly it is plausible that Diana should have shot her lover in a classic crime passionnel. If she did, did she have an accomplice? Harry Morris, the South African lawyer hired by Diana to represent Delves Broughton at his trial — he brilliantly succeeded in confusing the jury over the ballistics evidence — wrote in his memoirs that 'at least two persons must have taken part in this job'. The only signif- icant new piece of evidence that Farrant has discovered concerns Hugh Dickinson, a close friend of Diana and her husband. After the murder he went on a week's safari with them both in the Maasai Mara, having testified that at the time of the mur- der he was in hospital outside Mombasa with a poisoned foot. According to Farrant's researches, however, he was in fact staying at an officers' convalescent home a few hundred yards from Delves Broughton's house. From this Farrant concludes that Dickinson must have helped Diana — by removing the body and the car to a murram pit over two miles away — but the only supporting, hearsay, evidence she provides is of a servant who supposedly said that Dickinson had returned in the middle of the night with muddy boots.

Four years ago I wrote an article for The Spectator (13 February 1993) which result- ed from a long conversation I had had with Juanita Carberry, June's stepdaughter, a 15-year-old schoolgirl in 1941, to whom Delves Broughton had confessed to the murder when he went to see Diana at the Carberrys' house in Nyeri. I received a number of letters, most of them taking the view that Diana had killed her lover. The senior member of the South African Bar, Israel Maisels, who was stationed in Nairo- bi in 1941 and knew the Broughtons and the Carberrys, wrote to tell me he thought the crime was committed by Diana and June together. A man who employed Delves Broughton's personal servant, Onyango, after the war recounted that he (Onyango) admitted he had been told to burn his master's bloodstained clothes on the morning after Erroll was killed.

However enjoyable the speculation, one keeps coming back to Juanita Carberry's evidence of Delves Broughton's confession. So I went back to see her last week at her London fiat (inexplicably, Farrant never approached her in connection with this book). Many have ridiculed the idea that Delves Broughton would ever confide in a teenage girl. However, they used to talk a lot about their shared interest in horses, and they were both unloved (Juanita was frequently abused by her father and stepmother). One can easily imagine a sympathy between them which induced Delves Broughton to tell her the truth. Having done so, he wrote a poignant verse in her autograph book and, when she asked him what he feared most, wrote `Lonliness' — was it this fear which caused him to mis- spell the word? The date below his signature is 27 January 1941, three days after the murder.

Delves Broughton had arrived at the Carberrys' house in Nyeri having not seen Diana since the afternoon of the 24th. She returned from a visit to Nanyuki with June Carberry and, in front of Juanita, attacked her husband 'like a wild cat', calling him a murderer and screaming hysterically at him. Juanita also remembers that Erroll's uniform, and photographs of him, were strewn over the spare bedroom. Anyone who believes that Diana killed her lover has to answer this. If she did, why would she act out such a scene, in front of June, who was probably in cahoots with her any- way, and a schoolgirl who, whatever she may have thought, was regularly silenced by beatings from her father?

If Dickinson really was staying next door and acted as some sort of accessory to murder, it is more likely that he was help- ing Delves Broughton. They had already been involved together in attempted insur- ance frauds in England before the war, and when Delves Broughton was in custody during his trial Dickinson supposedly took him morphine and a syringe in case the verdict went against him. One of the major objections to the theory of Delves Broughton's guilt has always been that the car and body were found two and a half miles from his house, much too far for him to have walked home. He was said to suffer from night blindness and to be lame, and may have been drunk at the time.

But if Dickinson was on hand, these difficulties become irrelevant. Delves Broughton could have shot Erroll as he was driving away, then employed his former partner in crime to drive the Buick and the body to the road junction where they were found, while he walked back up the drive to bed. I rest my case.

The book will be available next week at Harrods, and from the East African Standard, 534-548 High Road, Ilford, Essex.