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Sunday, September 04, 2005

It's official - PM Harold Holt drowned!

Mystery of lost prime minister put to rest at last

By James Grubel Fri Sep 2,12:20 PM ET

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's most enduring political mystery came to an end Friday when authorities ruled that the prime minister who disappeared almost 40 years ago had drowned and was not assassinated or taken by a Chinese submarine.

Harold Holt disappeared while swimming in heavy seas at a surf beach in the southern state of Victoria on December 17, 1967, after serving almost two years as prime minister.

His body was never found, sparking a wave of rumors and often crackpot theories about his fate, including that he was killed by American assassins.

A book on 59-year-old Holt's disappearance even said he had been a spy and was picked up by a Chinese submarine and taken to Beijing.

But Victorian state coroner Graeme Johnstone said in a formal ruling Friday that Holt had drowned in rough seas at Cheviot Beach, south of Melbourne.

"Simply put, Mr. Holt took an unnecessary risk and drowned in rough water off Cheviot Beach," Johnstone ruled.

Johnstone's finding came after inquiries with Australia's chief spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), and after reviewing evidence and witness statements from those at the beach when Holt disappeared.

Until 1985, the coroner was not allowed to hold inquests in cases when a body was not found. Johnstone's belated finding came as part of a wider investigation into 85 drownings in Victoria where bodies were not found.


Holt, a charismatic politician who loved sport and outdoor activities and who was popular with women, became leader of the conservative government in January 1966 after the retirement of his Liberal Party founder, Sir Robert Menzies.

Holt's government oversaw an historic referendum in 1967 which resulted in indigenous Aborigines being counted in the national population census for the first time.

But he drew criticism for his close ties with the United States, which sparked violent protests during a visit by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and his decision to increase Australia's military commitment to the Vietnam war.

Johnstone's inquiry examined a range of theories surrounding Holt's death, including suggestions he had been taken by a shark, that he had been a paid Chinese spy since 1929 and that he committed suicide.

Another theory suggested he had been picked up in a boat by his bodyguard and went to live in Geneva with his lover.

It was also suggested that Holt had wanted to pull Australian troops out of Vietnam, prompting American secret agents to go to Australia to assassinate him or force him to commit suicide.

But Johnstone said all those theories were "fanciful."

"It is sad that, over the years, all of these fanciful or unusual theories about Mr. Holt's disappearance should receive public ventilation, overshadow his life and require an explanation," Johnstone said.


'Bout bloody time they made a decision about Holt, eh? pmsl! Who says there's anything wrong living in a beurecratic society, eh? farking hell!!! What a joke...


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