Scotland Yard to investigate Archer case

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JEFFREY ARCHER was facing the prospect of criminal charges as well as political ruin last night after his admission that he asked a friend to lie in a libel trial.

As the Tory party decided to re-run its selection contest for mayor of London, Scotland Yard confirmed that a complaint had been received and would be acted upon. The likelihood of a criminal investigation into Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare will bring further humiliation to the Conservative leader, William Hague, who had decided not to launch a party inquiry into allegations about the millionaire novelist.

In a separate development, The Independent has learnt that Mr Hague was warned as recently as a fortnight ago that he should look into the claims about Lord Archer's past. Sir Timothy Kitson, a former MP, said that he warned Mr Hague at a private dinner that there were still "dangers" about the peer's candidacy.

Lord Archer resigned as Tory candidate for mayor on Saturday after he admitted he had asked his friend Ted Francis to perjure himself ahead of his Daily Star libel trial 13 years ago. Mr Francis claimed that he had been asked to fabricate a meeting with Lord Archer to provide an alibi to disprove claims that he had spent a night with a London prostitute, Monica Coghlan.

After an emergency meeting at Conservative Central Office last night, senior Tories decided to re-run the ballot of party members in the capital next month. The 27 members of the party's London Mayoral Selection Executive, with the party chairman, Michael Ancram, met in private to agree a "contracted timetable".

Mr Ancram announced that all nominations will have to be submitted by 6 December and a winner will be announced on 17 January. The schedule, which allows new names on to the shortlist, means the Tories will still have a candidate in place ahead of Labour, which will announce a winner in February.

Steven Norris, a former transport minister, who came second to Lord Archer in the original selection race, remains the front-runner. But Mr Ancram said that if the party had simply replaced the peer with Mr Norris he would always be regarded as a "second best".

Mr Norris made plain his disappointment last night at not being automatically installed as the candidate. "I shall take a bit of time to reflect on my position. I have to think about whether this is what I want to do," he said.

Tony Blair tried to maximise the Tories' embarrassment by pointing out that Mr Hague had failed to vet the Tory peer. "It was a terrible misjudgement of the Tory leadership to put themselves in a position where they had Jeffrey Archer as a candidate," he said.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said that a letter had been received from the Daily Star, which lost the libel action and was ordered to pay pounds 500,000 damages. "The matter will now be considered to determine whether any further action is necessary," the spokesman said

Express Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Star, said that it may launch a civil action against Lord Archer, which could leave him facing a claim for return of the damages.

Lord Archer's spokesman, Stephan Shakespeare, said the police were obliged to respond to the complaint, but suggested criminal charges may not follow. "This is a media circus. We all know that. We have to see it for what it is," he said. Max Clifford, the PR agent who is acting on behalf of Mr Francis, said there would be more "spectacular revelations" about Lord Archer later this week.