Paranoid Robert Maxwell used microphones to snoop on wife and children
11th April 2022

Paranoid Robert Maxwell used microphones hidden under LAMP to snoop on his OWN wife and children inside his plush Oxfordshire home, BBC documentary reveals

  • The indebted Daily Mirror owner was found dead in 1992 after falling from yacht
  • After his death, his wife Elisabeth had to sell off the contents of the family home
  • The Maxwells lived in the rented Headington Hill Hall, in Oxfordshire
  • Maxwell hid two microphones underneath the shade of a table lamp
  • The microphones were discovered by antique dealer Malcolm Gordon
  • Lamp was among lots that were sold at Sotheby’s in January 1993 for £500,000 

Paranoid media tycoon Robert Maxwell used microphones hidden inside a lamp to listen to the conversations of his wife and children, a BBC documentary has revealed. 

The heavily-indebted owner of the Daily Mirror, who was found dead in 1992 after apparently falling from his yacht, snooped on those closest to him at his family’s home Headington Hill Hall, in Oxfordshire. 

The tycoon had nine children with his wife Elisabeth, including daughter Ghislaine and sons Kevin, Ian and Philip.

After his death and the collapse of his business empire, Mrs Maxwell was forced to sell everything inside the family home.

More than 600 lots were eventually sold via auction house Sotheby’s in January 1993. 

The possessions had been tipped to sell for £300,000 but sold for more than £200,000 above that figure. 

In tonight’s episode of the BBC’s House of Maxwell, antique dealer Malcolm Gordon spoke of the moment that he found two microphones hidden under the shade of an antique lamp that was in the sale and which was bought for £402. 

He said: ‘I came across this lamp, but what happened of course, when I lifted that [the shade], I saw that and realised that they were two microphones. 

‘He was recording everything that was said about him. 

‘This was actually in his own family home. So he wanted to know exactly what his sons thought of him, his wife thought of him. And it tells you the true story of the man.’ 

Paranoid media tycoon Robert Maxwell used microphones hidden inside a lamp to listen to the conversations of his wife and children, a BBC documentary has revealed. Pictured: Maxwell with his wife Elisabeth and daughter Ghislaine (left) in 1990

After Maxwell’s death, it emerged he had £460million from his own companies’ pension funds. 

The revelations quickly led to the collapse of the tycoon’s business empire and the need for Mrs Maxwell to sell off her husband’s possessions. 

Maxwell had rented his plush Oxfordshire home from Oxford City Council. 

The contents of his home that were sold by Sotheby’s also included fridges and freezers, TVs and video recorders, paperweights and books, oil paintings and antique furniture, including Maxwell’s mahogany desk. 

Also up for grabs was Maxwell’s Military Cross and other medals that he won for his service for Britain during the Second World War. 

Recalling the scenes at Sotheby’s, Mr Gordon said: ‘The place was absolutely packed. There were no seats available, people were standing around the back. 

‘Basically, they all wanted a bit of Maxwell memorabilia. He was a notorious man and by then everyone knew what had happened.’ 

Maxwell’s yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, was cruising off the Canary Islands, south-west of Spain, when the tycoon went missing in November 1991. 

His body was recovered soon afterwards, sparking news headlines around the world. 

The official ruling at his inquest said he died from a heart attack, combined with accidental drowning. 

Mr Gordon (pictured) said: ‘I came across this lamp, but what happened of course, when I lifted that, I saw that and realised that they were two microphones.’

Mr Gordon added: ‘This was actually in his own family home. So he wanted to know exactly what his sons thought of him, his wife thought of him. And it tells you the true story of the man’

The interior of Robert Maxwell’s home, Headington Hall, before its contents were sold at auction. Seen above is the tycoon’s dining table, which was tipped to sell for up to £15,000

However, experts had been unable to agree on his cause of death. Whilst murder was officially ruled out, his son Ian said it was ‘highly unlikely’ he had taken his own life. 

Some suspected he may have slipped into the water while urinating over the side of his yacht.  

As well as bugging the conversations of his own family, the tycoon listened in to the conversations of his employees when he suspected them of disloyalty.

The contents of the tapes are revealed in the BBC’s new documentary.  

The employees, whose words were voiced by actors to protect their identities, could be heard panicking about Maxwell’s whereabouts as his business stood on the brink of collapse. 

One was heard saying, ‘we’re f***ed’ when a colleague said he did not know where the tycoon was. 

Maxwell’s daughter Ghislaine was convicted in December of grooming and trafficking underage girls for her ex-boyfriend, the padeophile Jeffrey Epstein. 

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