Anglia TV chairman ponders boardroom fate of Lady Archer: Despite public reassurances, Lord Hollick fears continuing damage to companies in MAI group from share-sale affair

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The Independent Online
LORD HOLLICK, managing director of the media and finance group, MAI, will this week decide whether Lady Archer remains a director of Anglia Television.

MAI has stated publicly it is satisfied with Lady Archer's assurances that she passed no inside information to her husband, Lord Archer, before a pounds 292m takeover bid for Anglia was announced. However, sources inside MAI say Lord Hollick is 'worried about the continuing damage' the Archer affair may be having on his companies. According to an MAI source, 'niceties and formalities have been followed. But there is very real embarrassment'.

The latest twist in the affair was the revelation this weekend that Lady Archer was present at an Anglia board meeting - which learnt of the MAI bid - the day before her husband began buying Anglia shares in the name of his associate, Broosk Saib, that would net pounds 80,000 profit.

Tomorrow Lord Hollick and MAI's finance director, Peter Hickson, both board members of Anglia, will meet to determine what is to be done.

Although Lady Archer sits on the 10-member Anglia board, Lord Hollick controls the future of her directorship.

Since January, when MAI took control, the Anglia board has been without corporate power. The board oversees the broadcasting and contractual commitments given in the regional television franchise. Directors include the film producer David Puttnam, and Neil Kinnock's former economic adviser, Lord Eatwell. Lord Hollick himself is a Labour peer and a close associate of the former Labour leader.

One associate said that Lord Hollick was wedged between 'a media trial and a desire to clean up a mess' but action taken would be 'sooner rather than later'.

MAI has wanted to slim down the board of its wholly-owned subsidiary. But it has been wary of offending the Independent Television Commission which awards the lucrative franchise. Now, according to an insider, Lord Hol lick has the opportunity 'to kill two birds with one stone'.

One strategy that will be discussed between Lord Hollick and Mr Hickson is to halve the size of the Anglia board. Lady Archer would then avoid the embarrassment of a solo departure.

Lord Hollick is said to be anxious that the affair does not drag on. He was briefly interviewed by the Department of Trade and Industry Inspectors during the five- month investigation which began in February. The company in March had received valid acceptances of 40.7 million ordinary Anglia shares. Lord Archer's purchase of 50,000 shares through brokers Charles Stanley on 13 and 14 January and their sale, days later, when the MAI bid was announced - causing a substantial rise in the share price - was only one of a large number of substantial deals done in the heavily tipped share.

Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, yesterday said that crucial questions in the affair had yet to be answered by the key players.

Again calling for independent assessment of the DTI's report, Mr Cook said: 'If Lord Archer did not know of the MAI takeover, why did he think that Anglia shares were such a good buy? And if he bought them on Mr Saib's behalf, why were they not sent to Mr Saib's address?' The stockbrokers sent a cheque for pounds 80,000 to Lord Archer's London home.

Mr Cook said Lady Archer also needed to explain if she had warned her husband that he should not be dealing in price-

sensitive shares in a company of which she was director. Mr Saib, added Mr Cook, should also be asked where precisely the pounds 80,000 profit had gone.

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