Archer 'robbed of vital evidence by witnesses' death'

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The man who could prove Jeffrey Archer did not lie about the night he allegedly spent with a prostitute is dead. And so is the judge in the 1987 libel trial who would have been another key witness in the current perjury case, the Tory peer's counsel told the Old Bailey yesterday.

The absence of Terence Baker, who gave crucial alibi evidence in the libel trial, and Mr Justice Caulfield, who is remembered for his description of the peer's wife, Mary, as "fragrant", made the defence for Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare that much more difficult, Nicholas Purnell QC said in his closing speech.

The jury should not make anything of the refusal of the millionaire author to give evidence in his own defence, the QC said. And if a forged diary had been used in his evidence at the libel trial in which he won £500,000 damages from the Daily Star "we say the forgery had nothing to do with Jeffrey Archer".

Lord Archer's failure to take the witness box in his trial for perjury and forgery was not due to cowardice, Mr Purnell added. "I have never made any suggestion to you that Jeffrey Archer's absence from the witness box is attributable to any lack of communications skills, any lack of courage, any lack of ability to deal with the matter. The burden of proof is on the prosecution," he said.

"Terence Baker's evidence has been the subject of ... significant comment. If he was alive he could come to this court to give evidence before you. He would put an end to this matter," said Mr Purnell.

The QC told the jury it would have been "suicide" for Lord Archer to have given evidence at his libel trial using a doctored diary, as the prosecution had claimed. If lawyers for the Star thought the diary had contained blank pages all they had to do was to ask to inspect it.

Referring to Lord Archer's withdrawal from the election to be Mayor of London after admitting he asked Ted Francis, a fellow defendant, for an alibi to cover a "matrimonial infidelity", Mr Purnell said: "Being a bloody fool may be a male prerogative. It may be more an attribute to the male of the species than the female. But being a bloody fool does not make you a criminal."

Lord Archer, 61, denies perjury, perverting the course of justice and using a false instrument. Mr Francis, 67, denies perverting the course of justice.