Archer's fall: His media enemies ensured that the whiff of scandal never lifted

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Within minutes of the verdict, the Daily Star issued a writ against Lord Archer to overturn the 1987 libel trial and demand the return of the damages and costs, plus interest. It amounted to £2.2m.

It was a delicious moment, one enjoyed by many in the media who had attempted to investigate the novelist. A journalist who began to sniff around the murkier areas of his life would be warned: "You do that and I'll telephone your editor. He was around my flat the other night."

The combination of threats with a not inconsiderable charm might have worked better without the arrogance. But Archer's daredevil attitude to his life riled enough people never to allow the whiff of scandal to disappear.

Investigative journalists Michael Crick and Paul Foot and Adam Raphael, the former political editor of The Observer who was subpoenaed to give evidence at the original trial after an off-the-record conversation with Archer, were critics for years. They were often dismissed as "obsessives".

But along the way, other senior journalists became alarmed at the catalogue of incidents that suggested Archer was not to be trusted.

When it came to the London mayoral elections, Max Hastings, the editor of the Evening Standard, opposed Archer's adoption as candidate. Archer accused the newspaper of a vendetta and attempted to pull every string he could to get it to back off.

From the days of the Daily Star trial, there were many who believed that the newspaper had lost unfairly. Max Clifford, the publicist who put Ted Francis in touch with the News of the World, said a wariness among the press prevented other stories about Archer reaching the front page. "He was a very dangerous adversary because he was litigious and he was wealthy."

For all Archer's claims of vilification, Michael Crick believes that journalists actually failed to tackle him on issues that mattered, such as the shares deal. Mr Crick said: "People like colour. He's great for quotes. He pretended to be close to Thatcher and Major so journalists thought they were getting the inside story and the 1987 libel trial really intimidated people. People were terrified of asking tough questions of him.

"No other politician would have got away with Anglia on top of everything that had gone before. The press got to him but only over the things that weren't the serious things – the mistresses and the gaffes. They didn't go for the things that really mattered."

Adam Raphael said that both journalists and politicians had known that an injustice had been committed at the 1987 trial but had got too close to Archer to ask the questions that needed to be asked.

"People like myself and Michael Crick were outraged that such an obvious charlatan should play such a prominent part in public life," Raphael said.