Archer aide wanted to tell of 'unfair treatment' by Mary

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The Independent Online

Mary Archer's former personal assistant told the High Court yesterday that selling stories to the media was not dissimilar to Jeffrey Archer's novel-writing.

Jane Williams, 49, was defending a claim brought against her by Lady Archer for breach of confidence. She had worked for the wife of the jailed peer for 13 years before she was dismissed in November 2001.

Ms Williams, who has been accused of attempting to sell private details about her former employer to the press, said that she believed the public was entitled to hear "interesting" details of her professional life. "Lord Archer dug his way out of debt by writing," she said. "I had a very large legal bill which I wanted to honour. I had a way of dealing with it. I did not see anything wrong with that."

Lady Archer is seeking a permanent injunction against Ms Williams, whom she claims made contact with a number of newspapers and the publicist Max Clifford with a view to selling stories about her.

During cross examination, Ms Williams described how her relationship with Lady Archer deteriorated when it came to light that she had made a statement in support of the prosecution in Archer's trial. Until that point, she had been treated as a "member of the family" and the extent of Lady Archer's trust was reflected in the way she was introduced to Lady Thatcher as her "loyal and dependable PA", Ms Williams told the court.

It was when she refused to sign a confidentiality agreement with the Archers, which she claimed would have bound her "hand, foot and finger", that she decided to seek legal advice. "I would not be able to speak about anything - either confidential or non-confidential," she said. "I wanted specifically to be able to tell the public the experiences I had been through since Lady Archer had discovered that I had co-operated with the authorities.

"I felt I had been treated extremely unfairly. I felt that it was in the public interest to know how they conducted themselves towards me, and the hardship I have subsequently suffered.

"I thought it was wrong. I thought that they had behaved illegally. They had exposed me to situations that I did not choose to be exposed to."

Ms Williams, who said that she had kept her working diaries for "sentimental" reasons, described how she had been informed at the start of her job that she should be wary of press attention.

"I was, regularly, because we did tend to lurch from scandal to scandal and I never ever disclosed anything to the press," she said.

"I stand by the fact that I maintained confidentiality throughout those years."

While she insisted that there were "sensitive" details that she would never reveal to the public, she felt that the public was entitled to learn about her "interesting" job.

The hearing continues.