ALMOST a year since the disappearance of the Earl of Shaftesbury and subsequent discovery of his body, the aristocrat has still not been laid to rest.

November 2004 marked the start of a tragic year for the Ashley-Cooper family: First with the murder of the 66-year-old Earl, then the death of his son Anthony, 27, to a heart attack in May.

That leaves Nicholas, 26, a nightclub DJ who lives in New York, to take the reins of the family estate in Wimborne St Giles.

And the stress looks set to continue as rumours spread of crippling inheritance tax, funeral plans and an ongoing murder investigation with the tenth Earl's Moroccan-born wife Jamila M'Barek, 37, and her brother Mohammed Ben M'Barek, 40, at the centre.

Nicholas Ashley-Cooper (the 12th Lord to inherit the title) is currently back home with his mother Lady Christina and tending to the 9,000 acre family estate.

An Echo source said: "He has been around the village lately, he's obviously coming to grips with what he has inherited and is now up to his eyes with the harvest.

"People here won't have met him - very few people would know him if they met him in the street.

"Tenants on the estate hope they will ride out the death duty storm and that the new Earl will hold it all together.

"We've been told his father's funeral could be in September, within six to eight weeks - that's almost a year from when he was last heard of in the South of France."

An inquest into the Earl's death will be heard at Bournemouth Coroner Court.

First published: August 23, 2005