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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May 2005, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Sudden death may impact NI water
Aerial view of Lough Neagh
Lough Neagh provides 40% of Northern Ireland's drinking water
A second sudden death in the family which owns Lough Neagh may have unforseen consequences for Northern Ireland's water consumers.

Just weeks after the body of Lord Shaftesbury was found in France, the BBC has learnt his 28-year-old son died of a heart attack at the weekend.

The lough passed on to Anthony Ashley-Cooper who died in New York.

The DoE had come under pressure to buy the lough from the family to secure the water resource.

Although Lough Neagh is Northern Ireland's main source of drinking water, it belonged to the Earl of Shaftesbury.

Last month, the BBC revealed that after the DoE had turned down an offer to the rights to the Lough in 1990, they were formally advised to buy it to protect the resource.

The 10th Earl of Shaftesbury
Lord Shaftesbury's body was found in France

But before they could re-negotiate with Lord Shaftesbury his body was found in France.

It is thought he may have been murdered.

The death of Mr Ashley-Cooper now raises further questions about the future ownership of the lough.

With possibly two sets of death duties to pay, the Shaftesbury estate could be forced to sell the lough to raise cash.

Lough Neagh is the biggest freshwater lake in the UK and 40% of Northern Ireland's drinking water is taken from it. Work is already under way to increase this amount.

Next year, Northern Ireland consumers will start to pay for their water by way of specific charges, set to be some of the highest in the UK.

Any new charges would also be passed on, including extra charges for Lough Neagh, were they to be made.

It is understood that several years ago, the earl approached the government offering them the rights to the lough, but this was declined.

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