Archer was 'exposed' to block mayoral bid

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The Independent Online

Television producer Ted Francis exposed his friend Lord Archer over a fake alibi because he wanted to stop him being elected Mayor of London, the Old Bailey heard today.

Francis told publicist Max Clifford that he was not interested in money for his story – potentially worth £150,000 – and gave it to the News of the World "for the price of a second hand car".

Mr Clifford told the court where Archer and Francis are being tried for dishonesty in relation to a 1987 libel trial: "His sole concern was that he was the Conservative candidate for Mayor."

The court has been told that Archer stood down as the Conservative mayoral candidate in October 1999 when the News of the World published Francis's story.

Archer, 61, novelist and former deputy chairman of the Conservative party, denies four counts of perverting the course of justice, two of perjury and one of using a diary as a false instrument.

Francis, 67, of Cranleigh, Surrey, denies one charge of perverting the course of justice.

Archer is alleged to have asked his secretary to fill in a blank diary used in court and asked Francis for an alibi which was not needed when it was discovered it was for the wrong day.

Archer successfully sued the Daily Star which had alleged his slept with a prostitute in September 1986, and was awarded £500,000 damages.

Mr Clifford told the court that Francis had been to school with his brother and

he had known him for "forty–odd years".

He called on him in August 1999 to discuss Archer but later said he did not want to go through with the deal because of the "media frenzy" it would generate.

"He is a very gentle soul," added Mr Clifford.

But in October, he rang back after Archer had been declared as the official Conservative mayoral candidate.

Mr Clifford said: "William Hague had just been telling us what a wonderful man he was, that he was a man of honour and integrity and so on."

Archer had asked Francis to say he was having dinner with him when he was not. Clifford, aware of the background about the Star libel case, introduced him to the News of the World.

Mr Clifford said: "I explained to Mr Francis that this was a very big story and extremely valuable. He made it clear to me that money was not what this was about.

"He was concerned Jeffrey Archer might become Mayor of London and he could not stand by and let that happen.

"He was worried, frightened that Jeffrey Archer might just get in.

"I made it clear that the story was worth in the region of £150,000. He made it clear he was not after money and he would feel guilty if he took a large sum of money.

"He just wanted to make sure the truth came out."

Mr Clifford said he negotiated a deal in which he got £30,000 as commission. Francis received £14,000 with an additional £5,000 going to a charity of his choice.

"He wanted enough money to buy a second–hand car and make a donation to charity," said Mr Clifford.

The prosecution has told the court that Francis wrote to Archer's solicitors

before the trial to say he had dinner with him at the Sambuco restaurant on

September 9, 1986.

But it was later discovered that the night alleged in the libel trial was September 8 and the early hours of September 9, so Francis's alibi was not needed.

Questioned by Roy Amlot QC, for Francis, Mr Clifford said Francis told him that he thought the alibi was because Archer was dining with a girlfriend and did not want his wife to know.

Francis had told him: "I have lied for Jeffrey Archer. He wanted an alibi. The name of the lady he was with was mentioned.

"I said I would give him an alibi for his wife but I would not lie in court for him."

Mr Amlot asked him: "He was told the problem was with Mary Archer not with libel proceedings?"

Mr Clifford: "Yes, it was purely for her."

News of the World reporter Neville Thurlbeck said Francis had agreed to telephone Archer and have the conversations recorded.

The first tape was played to the jury in which Francis told him, on the instructions of the newspaper, that author Michael Crick had learned about the letter he wrote to his solicitors.