It was one of the most sensational true crime cases in history to involve the British aristocracy: the owner of a huge Dorset estate and head of one the oldest family titles in Britain murdered on the order of his wife, a former escort and Playboy model.
The shocking story began on the Cote d’Azur Jamila Ben M’Barek was sent to the Cannes holiday home of the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, Antony Ashley-Cooper, for sex in 2002.
So taken with her was he, that the Earl ended up marrying her when she told him she was pregnant. But instead of a happy ending, just two years later, the decision was to lead to his death as, intent on enjoying his fortune for herself, she persuaded her brother to kill him.
Now MailOnline has tracked down the former call girl on her release from a 25-year prison sentence for plotting his killing – to discover that, incredibly, she is still using the title the Dowager Countess of Shaftesbury that she acquired through her twisted marriage.
Jamila Ben M’Barek – who was jailed for 25 year over the murder of her husband – the 10th Earl of Shaftsbury – has given a sensational interview about her troubled marriage to MailOnline
Lord Shaftesbury and wife Jamila Ben M’Barek. MailOnline discovered that, incredibly, she is still using the title the Dowager Countess of Shaftesbury
Jamila Ben M’Barek, as she was born, has an Instagram page boasting the name ‘Comtesse’ — the French word for Countess — despite her role in the killing of the husband from whom she derived the title
According to a spokesman for Debrett’s Peerage, no action has been taken formally to prevent her using the title Dowager Countess
And in her first ever interview about the scandal, The ‘Countess’ has vowed to battle her dead husband’s family to make sure she keeps the title, saying she will spill secrets about the family, and vowing: ‘I will fight and I will win.’
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, the ‘Countess’ – or Comtesse, the French version of the word as she styles herself on Instagram with photos of her sashaying around St Tropez – said: ‘The family were never happy with me marrying Anthony.’
The Earl’s son, Nick Ashley-Cooper, the current 11th Earl of Shaftesbury, is understood to have pledged to do all that it takes to strip his stepmother of the title.
But she says: ‘Nick has said he will take the title from me but he won’t have it easy. I will take him on in court and I will fight him and I will win.
‘He has no right, I married his father and so legally I am the Countess whether he likes it or not. He can pay for all the expensive lawyers he wants but I will still fight him and win.
How the murder was reported at the time
‘Nick should know that I have kept many notes from my time in prison and I knew all the secrets of the Shaftesbury family, and I’m not afraid to share them with the world and write a book about it.’
In claims that will no doubt infuriate the current Earl, the ‘Countess’ claimed the animosity was all down to him ‘having a bad relationship with his father’ and claimed that it was her who helped the Earl find happiness.
‘Nick and Anthony’s sister Frances weren’t happy that he was seeing me but they didn’t know I made him happy and he was happy to be with me.
‘I was the one looking after him and when he proposed it was perfect – I gave him what he needed and he gave me what I needed.
‘We had fun times together and we enjoyed each other’s company. We had a good life together and that’s what his family in Britain couldn’t stand.’
Back at the family seat of St Giles House, near Wimborne St Giles in Dorset, it’s easy to see how the relationship would, and still riles, with the whirlwind romance turning to marriage just six months after they met.
The Earl’s will reveals how he added her name a week before they married in 2002, while his wedding gift to her was a £500,000 apartment in Cannes and an £8,000 month allowance.
But within months of tying the knot, the relationship soured, with Ben M’Barek describing how hard life became with the Earl due to his heavy drinking and womanising.
In an extraordinary account of her time with him, she claims he would regularly get drunk and bring prostitutes back to her home in Cannes with no consideration for her wellbeing.
As their marriage crumbled and he told her in 2004 that he wanted a divorce, she gave him an ominous warning, telling him: ‘You’ll be sorry.’
Shortly after their angry exchange, the Earl was dead, having been murdered by the Countess’ brother Mohammed, who carried out the killing on her order.
The jury took just two hours to convict her and her brother and both were given 25 years but her sentence was later reduced on appeal to 20 years and she was released in 2016 after serving just nine years
The Countess is now living in Zurich. Wallowing in self-pity, recalling the disastrous marriage, she said: ‘Anthony changed and went back to being a drunk and a cocaine addict’
They almost got away with the murder with the aristocrat’s badly decomposed body not being found for six months.
But the siblings were caught and both jailed for 25 years for murder during a high-profile trial. They were quietly released in 2016.
The Countess is now living in Zurich. Wallowing in self-pity, recalling the disastrous marriage, she said: ‘Anthony changed and went back to being a drunk and a cocaine addict.
Wearing a £20k Cartier watch, Gucci trainers with a gold band and a huge emerald ring surrounded with a diamond cluster on a white gold band on her wedding finger, she went on: ‘He would bring prostitutes and gangsters back to the house, I was scared and at one point one of them even threatened me with a knife. I said to Anthony this can’t go on and he just said I could ‘Go and throw myself off the balcony.
‘The family view seemed to be that he had all the money and he should sort himself out – and as I had married him I was responsible for him.’
Recounting the events of the day her husband died, aged 66, the she said: ‘I had asked Mohammed to come and help me talk with Anthony, to try and sort things out, there was nothing premeditated like the court said, there was no knife or gun.
‘The trial was a joke, there was no justice, the judge just wouldn’t accept anything I said. How can it be premeditated? Why would I ask my brother to kill my husband in the house where I live with my children in the middle of the day?
‘This is not justice, it’s racism, if my name had been Jennifer or Caroline, I wouldn’t have been convicted of murder, it’s because I am Arabic and because of that I was given 25 years for a murder I didn’t commit.’
The Earl’s wedding present to her was a £500,000 apartment in Cannes, with an allowance of £8,000 a month and two domestic staff, as well as a holiday home in a converted windmill
Ben M’Barek (left) first met the Earl when she was hired to have sex with him back in 2002. So taken with the escort that the Earl (right) went on to marry her
The Earl’s brother-in-law Mohammed M’Barek (left) was arrested 26 February 2005 at his home in a Munich suburb and should be handed over to French judicial authorities
When asked what in her opinion would have been a fair sentence then, she astonishingly said: ‘In jail I spoke to many people who had committed crimes and I filled 20 exercise books with notes – at the most I should have got three years.
‘That would have been a reasonable sentence because what I was guilty of was not giving assistance and preventing a death, it was my brother that murdered Anthony not me and he then put pressure on me not to tell the police.
‘It was a fight between two men and it happened in front of me in the hallway of my house. I tried to stop it but there was nothing I could do. They were hitting and punching each other and then Anthony was dead.’
Pausing for dramatic effect and wiping her face with her hand, she added: ‘I didn’t say anything to the police when it happened because I was frozen. I was disconnected from reality and I was crying as well. I just couldn’t believe what had happened.
‘I was frozen, I was shocked, I was shaking and I said to my brother we had to call the police but Mohammed said if I did then we would both go to jail, we just both sat there not knowing what to do.
‘It was his idea to put Anthony in the car and then he asked me to help him but I said no, I wanted to go to the police but he pressured me more and in the end I did what he asked. He drove Anthony’s body to woods near Cannes and left him there.
‘Looking back now after these years I know I should have called the police and told them what happened and I regret not doing that immediately but it was my brother, it was his fault, he pressured me and I was afraid.
‘In the end I did go to the police, I was in hospital because of the situation and all I could see in my head was Anthony’s body decomposing in the woods, I couldn’t get rid of that image and so that’s when I told the police.
‘But what I want to say again is that it wasn’t premeditated, I didn’t ask my brother to kill him, I didn’t pay my brother to kill him, he didn’t come to my house with a knife or gun and it wasn’t plan. It was just a fight that ended in an accident.’
Her eyebrow raising interpretation of events was later echoed at her trial, where she claimed her clients while working as an escort and partying in the fleshpots of St Tropez, included major film and sports stars.
All denied knowing her but she is still adamant now more than two decades later they were all regulars and didn’t corroborate her story for fear of incriminating themselves – another questionable excuse.
When the case came to trial in 2007, two years after the Earl’s body was found, key to the case was a wiretap police had of her talking with her sister about £100,000 she had paid in the weeks leading up to the murder – though her sister had no knowledge of or involvement in the plot.
But she again dismissed this, saying: ‘They don’t have a proper translation for the recording, I was speaking Arabic slang with my sister, I told her I had paid my brother £100,000 over many years, not in one go and not for killing Anthony.
‘We didn’t plan anything together, I just wanted my brother to help me tell Anthony to respect me more and not come home with prostitutes and gangsters.’
When detectives questioned her, she said she had no idea where her husband’s body was buried but phone records showed she had been the remote spot where he was found just two days before he died after being beaten and strangled.
The jury took just two hours to convict her and her brother and both were given 25 years but her sentence was later reduced on appeal to 20 years and she was released in 2016 after serving just nine years.
Her brother is due to be released later this summer but she has no intention of seeing him telling MailOnline :’What happened was his fault, it was nothing to do with me. I saw him the last time in 2018 but I won’t see him again now.’
Instead Ben M’Barek – who didn’t benefit from the Earl’s wealth and now claims to make a living through a cosmetic company she owns – says her intention is to travel to London and make sure Anthony’s family don’t strip her off her title.
When asked what her message to Nick would be and if she was sorry, once again her thoughts were shamelessly of herself, saying: ‘I would tell Anthony’s family that it’s a pity that he died and that they should have done more when I called them for help.
‘I tried to tell them what the situation was, that he was putting me and my children in danger by meeting prostitutes and gangsters and that they should have done more to help, especially France’s. I would ask Frances, why didn’t you help more ?’
When she returned to England, she was supposed to be seven months pregnant but she told the Earl that he was a drug addict and drunk who was unfit to be a father
The Earl made Ben M’Barek his third wife after she told the Earl that she was pregnant and persuaded Anthony to marry her in the Netherlands only six months after they first met
It’s a question that will undoubtedly outrage her dead husband’s family.
The family have declined to comment but Nick, who succeeded to the earldom following his predecessor’s death, was interviewed by the Mail in 2013.
He said that he suspected his stepmother’s motives the minute he met her over lunch at an Italian restaurant in West London.
‘Instantaneously I saw her as someone who was out to get everything she possibly could,’ he recalled.
The Shaftesbury title is now best known because of its associations with West End theatre land in London.
The 7th Earl Lord Shaftesbury was a noted philanthropist and social reformer whose work on behalf of the poor and mentally ill during the Victorian era was commemorated by the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain — featuring a statue better known as Eros — which was erected in Piccadilly Circus in 1893.
His arrow is said to point in the direction of St Giles House, the family seat near Wimborne St Giles in Dorset, the upkeep of which became the responsibility of the 20th-century Anthony, who had been educated at Eton and Oxford, when he succeeded his father at the age of 22.
The Countess is fighting her late husband’s son Nicholas Ashley-Cooper (pictured with his wife Dinah Streifeneder) to keep her title
Along with 5,000 acres of land, his inheritance included an art collection, the greatest private library in England and houses in London, Hove, Versailles, Paris and Nice.
Overnight he became one of the ten richest people in the UK. But the estate was in decline following a run of death duties and he would spend much time and most of the family fortune trying to restore it.
At 28, he scandalised his relatives by marrying a 40-year-old Italian divorcee he had known for only a few weeks.
None of his family attended the service at Westminster Register Office and the marriage was soon doomed by his many liaisons with prostitutes in Soho and Brighton.
They divorced in 1976 and he married his second wife, Christina, an ambassador’s daughter with whom he had two sons, Anthony and Nicholas. But he continued seeing prostitutes.
He was also drinking heavily to help him cope with the financial stresses of running the estate, and in 2000 he divorced Christina and fled to the South of France.
Then 62, he took to wearing black leather trousers, pink shirts and colourful sunglasses, and earned a reputation as a cocaine-snorting playboy in the nightclubs of Cannes and St Tropez. In reality, he was a lonely man who often paid women just to talk to him.
‘His idea of a morning well spent was to wake up with a prostitute — he hated it when they left before breakfast,’ writes journalist Michael Litchfield, author of the book The Murder Of Lord Shaftesbury.
Before getting out of bed, he would light a cigarette and pour himself a glass of champagne from the dregs of the nearest magnum.
Then he’d have another cigarette and, fortified, pop open a fresh bottle. He once said that if he wasn’t drunk by noon, he was having a bad day.’
He did have occasional girlfriends, including 29-year-old ‘Penthouse pet’ Nathalie Lyons who was showered with gifts, including cheques totalling more than £1million, a £100,000 Rolex and an Audi TT sports car.
He made Ben M’Barek his third wife after she told the Earl that she was pregnant and persuaded Anthony to marry her in the Netherlands only six months after they first met.
They separated and by April 2004 he had met another woman he hoped to marry, a nightclub hostess named Nadia Boche.
Aware that Ben M’Barek stood to inherit far more in the event of his death than she would receive in a divorce settlement, following his disappearance the police placed a tap on her phone and heard her complaining to her sister that their brother, Mohammed, was blackmailing her for £100,000 as payment for helping her dispose of the Earl’s body.
The Earl of Shaftsbury socialised with the great and the good. Here he is pictured meeting the then Prince of Wales in Cannes in 2005
The Earl of Shaftsbury’s family seat at St Giles House, near Wimborne St Giles in Dorset
When questioned, she claimed that her husband had been accidentally killed during an altercation with Mohammed at her apartment, and that she and her brother had panicked and loaded the body into the boot of his car.
She claimed that she didn’t know where it had been dumped. But her phone records showed that, two days before the Earl died, she had been in a remote spot miles outside Cannes.
The police searched the area and in April 2005 they found the Earl’s badly decomposed remains in a valley where it had lain undiscovered and at the mercy of mountain wolves for months.
A post-mortem examination showed that he had been strangled and beaten. And although Ben M’Barek had not taken part in the physical attack on the Earl, payments to her brother from her bank account confirmed that this had been a murder premeditated by the two of them.
When the case came to court in 2007 it took the jury just two hours to find them guilty.
In prison Ben M’Barek was said to have demanded that both the governor and her lawyers should address her as ‘Countess’ and that the warders should bow to her.
Later this year Channel 5 will screen a controversial documentary on the scandal.