The Archer Affair: Vital questions that remain unanswered

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The Independent Online
SEVEN DAYS ago Lord Archer was forced to quit as Tory candidate for the job of Mayor of London after it was revealed he had asked a friend, Ted Francis, to provide a false alibi. It turned out that the alibi was for the night of September 9, 1986 - and not September 8, the night of when, according to the Daily Star's accusation, Lord Archer met prostitute Monica Coghlan.

Since then, the picture has become even more complicated. Now the claims of Lord Archer's friend, Michael Stacpoole - that he was paid pounds 40,000 to stay out of the country so that he could not be summoned as a witness on the libel trial and that Archer promised him half of any damages won in the case - cast dramatic new light on the case. But how sure can we be of the context into which they fit? Here we piece together some of the circumstances surrounding the murky case.

THE LOCATION

Le Caprice: On the night of 8 September, Lord Archer had been having dinner at Le Caprice, he told the High Court. He then had drinks with his film agent. The Star unsuccessfully claimed that he then nipped round the corner to Shepherd's Market to visit the prostitute.

Le Caprice is possibly the most discrete restaurant in London. Situated behind the Ritz Hotel, its clientele includes: Princes Margaret, Sir Harold Pinter, Madonna, Brad Pitt and Jack Nicholson. Former owners Christopher Corbin and Jeremy King have built a legendary reputation for never talking about who was with whom or when. Even if they could remember exactly when Lord Archer left on a specific September night 13 years ago they are not saying. "How can we remember who he ate with or when he left," they might have testified. "Le Caprice is a very busy restaurant."

THE CAST

The Cohens: The couple with whom Lord Archer claimed he was dining were Richard Cohen, Lord Archer's book editor, and Mr Cohen's wife Caroline. They provided the novelist with an alibi until 10.30pm. Richard Cohen Books went into liquidation last year and Mr Cohen is now understood to be living in New York. He has made no recent comments on the case.

Terence Baker: Lord Archer's film agent and the man the peer claims he stayed with at Le Caprice - drinking at the bar long past the time when the Star contended that he was with the prostitute.

The convivial Mr Baker, whose office was only 100 yards away from the smart Mayfair restaurant, used Le Caprice like a canteen. He was the only man - apart from the disgraced peer - who knew the whole truth. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack four years ago.

Earlier this week, Adam Raphael, an Economist writer, claimed he had seen Lord Archer's diary for the night of 9 September. Lord Archer was evidently booked in to have dinner with Baker then and not 8 September - inviting the inference that it was unlikely they would have been together in the same restaurant on two consecutive nights. However, Lord Archer has always maintained the meeting with Mr Baker that night was accidental.

Michael Stacpoole: The PR man asked by Lord Archer to give Ms Coghlan pounds 2,000 so she could have a holiday. In court, Lord Archer contended that he never met the woman - and had only had a brief telephone call with her. That picture was muddled when Mr Raphael claimed that Lord Archer had told him that he had once met Ms Coghlan - but only casually six months earlier. Today's claims by Stacpoole in the Mail on Sunday further undermine Lord Archer's contentions.

In the cast of characters that just leaves the two protagonists Ms Coghlan, the away-day prostitute from the Midlands who has never changed her story, and Aziz Kurtha, a solicitor and former television presenter who has stood by his court testimony that he saw Lord Archer with her. Their evidence was not enough to convince the libel jury in 1987.

THE QUESTIONS

Three questions remain, though they may never be answered conclusively:

n If Lord Archer was not with Mr Baker who was he with?

n What time did Lord Archer leave Le Caprice?

n If Lord Archer was prepared to ask Mr Francis to lie for him who else might he have cajoled?

DIARY, SPORT, PAGE 19

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