Conservatives In Crisis: Senior detective takes charge of inquiry

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THE DETECTIVE who led the investigations that helped to jail the former Tory minister Jonathan Aitken is assembling his initial team of three to work on the Archer case.

Detective Superintendent Geoff Hunt belongs to Scotland Yard's specialist operations organised crime group. Det Supt Hunt, who has been in charge of several complex inquiries, including murders abroad, will try to establish exactly what type of offence, if any, may have been committed by Lord Archer and/or Ted Francis, who supplied a false alibi.

The team is expected to talk with the Crown Prosecution Service early next week. The officers will examine tape recordings made by the News of the World of conversations between Mr Francis and Lord Archer.

Both men can expect to be summoned to a London police station and questioned under caution, although this will not happen until the new year. A report will be sent to the CPS for lawyers who deal with high-profile cases to decide whether charges should be laid.

The false alibi concocted by Lord Archer and Mr Francis was never put before the court because the Daily Star changed the date of its allegation against Lord Archer - that he had sex with the prostitute Monica Coghlan - from 9 to 8 September 1986. Legal opinion is divided on whether a prosecution for conspiracy to attempt to pervert the course of justice would be successful.

Police sources say the matter is "certainly not being approached as a paper exercise" and there is every intention to pursue the possibility of criminal charges.

They point out criticism of the supposed slowness of the Aitken inquiry, and claims that it was going to be a whitewash. But in the end the former chief secretary to the Treasury was interviewed, charged, convicted and imprisoned for perjury.