The Times May 05, 2006

Riddle of the fake earl solved
By Sean O’Neill and Paul Thompson

Lord Buckingham – as the inmate in a British prison styles himself – is likely to be a former US spy called Charlie

"Lord Buckingham."

THE mystery surrounding the identity of a man who stole a name from a baby’s headstone and styled himself the Earl of Buckingham is about to be solved.

The Times has learnt that the bogus earl, who is in Elmley Prison, Kent, is believed to be an American citizen and former member of a US Navy intelligence unit who disappeared from his home in Florida in 1983. His real name is thought to be Charles Albert Stopford, known as Charlie, the eldest of nine children of Charles and Barbara Stopford.

“I haven’t seen my son for more than 20 years,” Mr Stopford said yesterday. “We are still awaiting confirmation but if it is him we will all be absolutely delighted.”

Kent Police, the force that arrested the bogus earl in January 2005, has asked Interpol to carry out a fingerprint and DNA check against US police and military records. “This is the strongest lead we have had — it looks pretty good,” a police source said.

The Stopford family last saw Charles in April 1983, when he was 21 and living with his grandmother in Orlando. They say he simply disappeared, leaving all his possessions. He kept in touch with his mother for a few months and told her that he was using the alias Buckingham, a fact she kept secret from her family until recently.

The following year a man calling himself Chris Buckingham and claiming to be English met his wife-to-be, Jody Doe, in Germany. The man — copying a trick from The Day of the Jackal — had assumed the identity of Christopher Edward Buckingham, who had died, aged 8 months, in August 1963. With the dead baby’s identity he obtained a British passport and national insurance number.

Buckingham and Ms Doe moved to England, settled in Northampton, married and had two children: Lyndsey, now 20, and Edward, 17. The couple divorced in 1997 and Ms Doe, who had begun to doubt her husband’s identity, placed an advertisement in The Times seeking information about him.

Buckingham, an IT consultant, lived in England and Germany, where he rented an apartment in the town of Hohentengen, close to the Swiss border. He spoke fluent German and introduced himself as Lord Buckingham, a title extinct since 1687. He also began to use notepaper bearing the Buckingham coat of arms.

The charade continued until he was stopped by immigration officials at Dover. A security trawl after the September 11 attacks had led to Buckingham’s passport being revoked when it was found to match the death certificate of the real Christopher Buckingham.

Since his arrest Buckingham has refused to reveal who he is. His details were circulated to police in Europe and the possibility that he was a Cold War spy was investigated, but Buckingham’s identity remained a mystery. He was jailed for passport offences last November and, at the end of his sentence, rearrested under immigration powers. He has refused visits from his children, who are desperate to discover the truth about their father.

In America the Stopford family conducted periodic searches for their missing brother. This week they checked the internet for references to Christopher Buckingham. They were led to TimesOnline and were struck by the photographs of the younger Buckingham, especially one in which he was sporting a beard.

“It has been a long 23 years and at times they feared Charles was dead,” a family representative said. “He walked out one day, and after a few telephone calls and cards to his mother just disappeared off the face of the Earth.

“There was no contact and no one has heard a single word from him since. You can imagine how they feel now. They are very shocked and have a lot of questions and want some answers. It is a very anxious time for them. They would love to speak with Charles. They simply want to ask him why. Why he did this to the family?”

The Stopfords say that Charles was an Anglophile who loved the Beatles and mimicked an English accent. The family spokesman said: “He is very bright, very intelligent. He could easily have picked up German. He did an excellent English accent — he could turn it on and off at will.”

The Stopfords have puzzled for years over the disappearance but are reluctant to discuss their theories. “There were some troubles, things he was involved in here in the US which might have made him feel he had to get away,” the spokesman said. “So much of his life was shrouded from his family.”