Archer is free again - and ready to plunge back into his old life of peerless self-promotion

Click to follow

Prisoner FF8282 woke this morning for the last time in a tiny cell decorated only by pictures of his wife and children on one wall. He pulled on a set of civilian clothes, including his own underwear, and not the striped shirt and jeans of his prison uniform.

Rather than reporting for work at the jail's library, he went to the gate of Hollesley Bay open prison, Suffolk, to be met by his son William and taken back to his old life - that of Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, self-publicist extraordinaire, multimillionaire novelist and disgraced peer.

For Archer, this is likely to mean a return to the gruelling round of publishing, charity work and relentless self-promotion that characterised his existence before he was jailed for four years for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

After serving two years and two days of his sentence, and being released for the rest on probation, the question is whether Lord Archer steps into the outside world a chastened, wiser and perhaps less high-profile man. Or will he soon be back to his old tricks?

His planned movements after his release today suggest that he is preparing to plunge back into a workaholic lifestyle.

After a visit to the family home, the Old Vicarage in Grantchester, near Cambridge - where the poet Rupert Brooke once live - he will head to his luxurious flat in London overlooking the Thames.

He has registered the apartment as his "designated address", a decision that surprised his probation supervisors, who had expected him to take refuge with his wife, Mary, in the comparative privacy of the Cambridgeshire countryside.

His penthouse contains his office, which has been running normally since his conviction in 2001, receiving more than 10,000 letters, as well as countless invitations to public events and requests for media interviews.

Archer has told staff at Hollesley Bay that he does not want to give any interviews this morning, although he may give way to his fatal weakness for publicity when he is confronted by ranks of camera crews. Although he is expected to maintain a low profile until the autumn, he will not be out of the limelight for long, with an inevitable barrage of publicity to accompany the publication of Purgatory, the second volume of his prison memoirs, within days. The third and final instalment, for which he is said to have 280 pages of hand-written notes, is expected later this year.

The first book recounted his spell in high-security Belmarsh prison in south-east London where he was dispatched after being found guilty of faking an alibi in his notorious libel battle with The Star over whether he slept with Monica Coghlan, a prostitute.

The volume, in which he said he contemplated suicide and discovered much more about hard drugs than he could have done on the outside, generated intense controversy. He was accused of breaking prison service rules by identifying fellow inmates.

Archer, whose spell in jail generated scores of tabloid headlines as prisoners clamoured to tell anecdotes about their famous fellow inmate, was mobbed by the media when he started a spell of community work at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln, last August.

Within a month, though, he had been grounded and transferred to high-security Lincoln prison for attending a party at the Norfolk home of the former Tory cabinet minister Gillian Shephard without permission while on day release.

Soon afterwards, news emerged that he had lunched with a prison officer and policewoman at an Italian restaurant in Lincoln when he was meant to be working.

Archer will draw on his turbulent time behind bars when he launches a crusade for better conditions in prison in September at a conference organised by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

The former Tory deputy chairman's energetic advocacy of the cause could be matched by a willingness to dip into a formidable fortune that has been valued at up to £60m.

Reports yesterday suggested he could also use some of it - including the £10m he will earn for his prison diaries - to try to take revenge on his enemies.

Those in his sights are said to include Angela Peppiatt, his former secretary whose testimony in court was crucial to his conviction, and Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, the Liberal Democrat peer who alleged that millions of pounds went missing from a charity that he ran.

Conservative MPs - who tend to be equally amused and irritated by Archer's antics - say he still believes he is innocent of the charges on which he was convicted.

Jonathan Aitken, jailed for perjury committed during his libel battle with The Guardian, told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "My understanding is Jeffrey still feels quite a deep sense of resentment. My advice would be a piece of prison slang, which is, 'Don't be a double Richard'. That translates rather amusingly. Richard the Third is rhyming slang for 'bird' - bird is prison slang for sentence.

"What it means is, 'Don't do your sentence twice over'. I did meet in my prison journey quite a lot of 'double Richards', people who were bitter against judges, juries, witnesses and so on. They went on, as it were, serving their sentence twice."

A further question is whether - and more likely when - he takes up his old seat in the House of Lords. Because of his five-year suspension from the Tory party, which runs out in 2005, he would have to sit with the crossbenchers.

Despite more than 60 MPs signing a Commons motion demanding the expulsion from the Lords of any peer convicted to a year or more in prison, there is nothing to prevent Archer's return to the Upper House.

Although his designated address in Westminster is a short walk from the Lords, he is said to be in no hurry to get back into ermine.

The peer's immediate task will be to adjust to the restricted conditions of his freedom. He will have to report regularly to probation officers for a year - once a week for the first month, fortnightly for the next two months and then monthly. He will need permission to spend the night away from London - even if it is to visit his wife and sons in Grantchester. Nor will he be allowed to travel abroad, except in exceptional circumstances.

In a condition likely to affect any royalties from his prison memoirs, his probation officer must also approve any kind of paid work Archer undertakes.

Reoffending, or any action judged to damage his rehabilitation, would mean his immediate return to custody.

Chris Beetles, a close friend, said that Archer was a "little cautious" after his two years at Her Majesty's Pleasure but remained essentially unchanged by the experience.

"Is he down? No, he isn't. He's not depressed. I find his mood steady and sane and there's been no denting of his activities or optimism," Mr Beetles told BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House.

Mr Beetles said that, despite a recent less-than-flattering photograph of his friend, he had not piled on the pounds during his 732 days of stodgy prison food. "It is a trick of the lens, he assures me. He told me on the phone yesterday, 'I am now the same weight as when I went in'. He is not going to look fat and old and bowed and beaten."


By Rebecca Armstrong

JULY 2001

Found guilty of perjury and sent to Belmarsh prison. Sentenced to four years. Have suicidal feelings.


Drugs masterclass. "I came in very naïve about heroin, cocaine and crack. I am now becoming well informed."

JULY 2002

Appeal bid fails. Judges rule sentence is not too harsh. First day release from prison.


Things look up. First home visit from North Sea Camp. Sign three-book deal with Macmillan Publishing. Begin five-day-a-week job at Theatre Royal in Lincolnshire. Fish suppers and Chinese takeaways provide pleasant change from prison food.


Caught attending champagne party at Gillian Shephard's house. Banned from leaving North Sea Camp. Lunching with a police officer and a senior prison officer instead of working creates more bother. Moved to Lincoln jail. Transferred to Hollesley Bay prison - or "Holiday Bay" as it's known among inmates.


Pay back more than £2.5m to Daily Star newspaper. Plan to publish prison diaries.


Chocolate swiss roll snack, highlight of Christmas Day.


Claim unfair treatment - denied parole again. Demand to see personal prison files kept under Data Protection Act to fight back.

MAY, 2003

Lady Archer prepares for High Court battle with ex-PA Jane Williams over private life. Mary professes undying loyalty in Channel 4 documentary.

JUNE, 2003

Parole board announces release date. Newspapers and politicians furious. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, accused of delaying release.

JUNE 2003

Caught smuggling diary pages out of prison. Shelve plans for publicity to promote new volume of diary.

JULY 2003

Free at last.