Archer's fall: Barrister was first choice for City types in trouble

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The Independent Online

The name Nicholas Purnell QC will be forever associated with his most famous client, Jeffrey Archer.

But the 57-year-old barrister, who gives his time free helping fellow advocates facing disciplinary charges at the Bar Council, has spent many years building a career representing bankers, financiers and accountants accused of complicated frauds.

In 1995 he acted for the showbiz accountant Keith Moore, who was jailed for six years for stealing £6m from the pop star Sting. Mr Purnell tried to make something of the musician's economics A-level and his previous employment with the Inland Revenue. When Sting said he didn't properly understand accounts, Mr Purnell told the jury: "You can't have somebody at the Inland Revenue who is horrified by financial documents."

He also represented the former stockbroker Anthony Parnes in his appeal against conviction in relation to the Guinness trial. Four men, including the chief executive, Ernest Saunders, were sent to prison in 1990 for conspiring to drive up the price of shares.

This year he helped clear John Townsend, a high-ranking investment banker, of a £1m share-buying fraud. Mr Purnell's submission, that the Crown had failed to produce enough evidence to support the charge against the former deputy chairman of Hoare Govett, led to Judge Byers directing the jury to acquit.

He hoped to do the same for Jeffrey Archer, and did succeed in persuading the judge to drop one of the charges against the millionaire novelist. But his enthusiasm to do the very best backfired at the Old Bailey. Mr Justice Potts gave Mr Purnell a dressing-down when he discovered that the part-time judge had gone behind his back. Mr Purnell had asked another judge to grant the defence access to the personal credit-card details of Archer's former secretary, Angela Peppiatt.

His ability to dissect highly complex financial dealings has made Mr Purnell one of the first choices for City names accused of fiddling accounts. Histalents have also been put to use in Whitehall. He has played a prominent role on the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee on education and conduct.

Mr Purnell was called to the Bar in 1968. He has been a part-time judge since 1986 and was chairman of the Criminal Bar Association for the 1990-91 year.