If you are an Archers fan, don't read this

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The Independent Online
FANS of The Archers, Britain's longest-running soap opera, are in for a nasty shock tomorrow. Susan Carter will not be spending Christmas with her husband, feed salesman Neil, and young children Emma and Christopher. Instead, she will be a guest of Her Majesty, the Independent can exclusively reveal, writes Chris Arnot.

The crown court judge will hand out a six-month sentence, telling Susan and several million listeners: 'Any attempt to undermine the justice system is a serious criminal act.' Her brother, Clive Horrobin, the armed robber she sheltered and helped financially while he was on the run, will get six years.

Susan is a good wife and mother, struggling to create a decent life away from the disreputable Horrobins. She has no previous convictions. How could she be treated so cruelly?

Very easily, according to the Archers' editor, Vanessa Whitburn, who has done painstaking research. 'There was a general feeling of surprise when Roger Levitt (the City fraudster) got 180 hours of community service. You'd think somebody like Susan would be treated at least as leniently. But there has been a lot of inconsistency in sentencing.' The programme's adviser, Roger Ede, secretary of the Law Society's criminal law committee, said: 'I started by suggesting two months, but some colleagues thought that quite lenient.

'This would be a harsh sentence, top end of the tariff, but quite feasible. One of the most serious offences you can commit is to undermine the system of justice. Her only defence would have been duress . . . But she did it because Clive was her brother. That's no defence in law.'

On top of that, fees for her solicitor, Mark Hebden, and a barrister have to be paid. Surely the Carters - joint annual income about pounds 18,000 - would qualify for legal aid? 'We ran their case through the system,' said Ms Whitburn, 'and discovered it would have cost a family like that pounds 56 a week over about six weeks. Legal aid has been cut back.'

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