Conservatives In Crisis: Charities deny receiving large libel windfalls

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The Independent Online
LORD ARCHER'S magnanimous claim that he intended to donate his entire pounds 500,000 libel winnings in 1987 to charity came under intense scrutiny yesterday.

The controversy was fuelled further when some charities, reported to have benefited from tens of thousands of pounds, insisted they had only received small sums.

The Cheltenham Ladies' College, Dr Mary Archer's alma mater, was believed to have been rewarded healthily as a token of respect for the wife who had stood so resolutely by his side during the trial.

Last night, however, bursar Anthony Siddall said: "We understand that, in the light of his successful libel action in 1987, it has been suggested that Jeffrey Archer donated pounds 50,000 to the Cheltenham Ladies' College. The college did not receive such a donation. [But] in January 1998, Jeffrey Archer did donate pounds 1,000 to the college."

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, south-west London, also insisted that it had not received the reported "big slice" of the damages. Sue Ellison, a spokeswoman for the gardens, said: "He did make a deed of covenant. I can't tell you the exact amount but it certainly was not a big slice."

The Sports Aid Foundation was also unable to track down a major donation. Spokeswoman Hannah Jarvis said: "We don't have records of donations going back that far but we do keep our annual reports, which always include people if they have given a major donation. Jeffrey Archer is not in there. It is possible he donated less than that (pounds 5,000) but we can't tell. It is possible he could have made a donation anonymously. But as donations go, his was not a major one."

Nor could Oxfam, a charity which the Tory peer is known to support, find any record of a substantial donation. "I can't say there was no donation. It may have been anonymous," a spokeswoman said.

Lord Archer's spokesman, Stephan Shakespeare, was unable to shed light on the situation yesterday. "I don't believe we have a list. In this atmosphere anyone can say anything they please. They could say he was stealing from charity and what could we do to counter it. He doesn't give big amounts, but lots of little ones."

Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, was reported to have received up to pounds 100,000. Last night its Dean, the Very Reverend Michael Higgins, would only say that it had benefited from a "reasonable" donation.

Newnham College, Cambridge, where Dr Archer is still a fellow, was equally coy. But its bursar, Michael Payne, did say: "Lord Archer did support us in 1987 and we were extremely pleased with the donation."

Dr Robert Gasser, bursar of Brasenose College, Oxford, also said that it had benefited from a "generous" donation. "He has been generous to the college over the years. He did make a donation at that time but it was given on a confidential basis," he said.

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, however, was willing to reveal that it had received pounds 10,000 in 1987.

The company which manages the Globe Theatre in London is able to account for a further pounds 1,000 of Lord Archer's record pay out. A spokeswoman for the International Shakespeare Globe Centre said nothing was received in 1987, but a year later the Tory peerbecame a member of its club, which meant he donated pounds 1,000.

And Caroline Burkitt, treasurer of Lord Archer's local church, St Andrew & St Mary in Grantchester, Cambridgeshire, said he had given "generously" after the trial.

THE ARCHER QUESTION

Q: Who is the mystery man Lord Archer says is his "lookalike" and was actually with Monica Coghlan, a prostitute?

A: Central to the peer's claim that he had no connection with Ms Coghlan was his argument that a Northern businessman who looked just like him had slept with her. Lord Archer said the man sent him a photo of himself and a letter making clear he was sorry for the embarrassment caused. The grainy photo and letter are said to be in the safe of Lord Archer's lawyer, Lord Mishcon. They have not been released because the Tory peer said he wanted to protect the identity of the man. Among those who have seen the photo is Sir Bernard Ingham, Baroness Thatcher's former press secretary.

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