Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist

New Twist on tale of Aspers the trickster

New twist in tale ol Aspers the trickster

The unedifying row over whether millionaire gaming figure John Aspinall was a cheat astonished London clubland. It was fired by Lady Annabel Goldsmith, whose late husband Sir James Goldsmith was a regular at Aspinall's tables, when she cast doubt on the claims Irish-born gambler John Burke makes in a new book.

But now the dispute has escalated. Choosing his words with great delicacy, Burke, who once dated model Sandra Paul — now wife of ex-Tory leader Michael Howard — says of Lady Annabel: 'She seems to have had a lapse in memory.'

In the book, called The Hustlers and written by Douglas Thompson, it is claimed that Aspinall, who died seven years ago, ran a lucrative scam with cards at his Mayfair casino, The Clermont Club, above Annabel's nightclub on Berkeley Square, and netted thousands of pounds from unsuspecting punters.

Much of the book is based on the testimony of Burke, who has played his cards close to his chest about illegal chemin de fer games in Belgravia in the 1960s.

Protecting Aspinall's reputation, Lady Annabel dismissed Burke as a mere employee. But Burke, now in his 80s, tells me: 'I was a founding director of The Clermont Club. There were two of us — the other was John Aspinall.'

He alleges that before the club was established, Annabel, then married to Mark Birley, lent him and Aspinall their home in South Kensington 'where we hosted one of our illegal games'. He adds: 'Annabel used to come to our games. If her memory is going, I have all the records — I know how much she won and lost. I have all the paperwork about that and my days at The Clermont.' He says he has furnished the book's publishers with certified copies.

Burke, who made a fortune as a commodities broker in the 1970s and whose father was a celebrated master of the Tipperary Foxhounds, says he finds Lady Annabel's reaction 'puzzling'.

Not least because he dined with her ex-husband at Mark's Club, around the corner from The Clermont, last year.

Meanwhile, the widow of missing peer Lord Lucan, whose gambler husband was another Clermont regular, tells me: 'I remember John Burke very well. He was one of the original founders of the club, but his involvement ended early on — there was some kind of disagreement.'

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