Archer's fall: Peer, perjurer and prisoner

Click to follow
The Independent Online

At 12.22pm in Court 8 of the Old Bailey, Jeffrey Archer's extraordinary and tempestuous public life ended in ruin, with a guilty verdict that sent him to prison for four years and left his reputation shredded, this time beyond repair.

As the trial of the millionaire novelist, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and confidant of Margaret Thatcher, drew to a close, the judge spelt out the gravity of his crimes. Archer's perjury, said Mr Justice Potts, was the most serious he had ever known or even read about in law books.

The die was cast 13 years, 11 months and five days ago when Archer left the High Court triumphant, having won a record £500,000 in damages from the Daily Star after convincing a jury that he had not slept with a prostitute, Monica Coghlan, as alleged by the newspaper.

Yesterday, another jury decided he had spun a web of deceit and corruption to achieve that famous victory. He was unanimously convicted of two charges of perjury and two of perverting the course of justice.

Archer, 61, was ordered to pay £175,000 costs for the trial. The Daily Star issued a writ against him for £2.2m, and the News of the World ­ which settled with him for £50,000 in 1987 ­ announced it was seeking £300,000.

In a day of rising tension and drama, police revealed that Mary Archer, 56, who gave evidence on behalf of her husband in this trial, as she had done at the High Court in 1987, may herself face an investigation for alleged perjury.

The jury emphatically rejected her evidence about a crucial diary at the heart of the case. Afterwards, Detective Chief Superintendent Geoff Hunt of the Metropolitan Police, the officer who led the Archer investigation, said: "I have heard what was said [by the judge]."

Archer, a former Conservative candidate to be Mayor of London, may also be stripped of his peerage. Lester Piggott lost his OBE in 1988 after being jailed for tax evasion and Jack Lyons lost his knighthood over the Guinness fraud. Special legislation is needed for peerages to be removed. Last night, government sources revealed the move was being considered.

Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare of Mark of the County of Somerset ­ to give him his full title ­ spent the first night of his sentence at Belmarsh Prison in south-east London, but he can expect soon to be sent to an open prison. He was told by the judge that he will have to serve at least 24 months before he becomes eligible for release. He will remain on licence for the rest of his sentence and could be returned to prison if he reoffends.

Ted Francis, Archer's former friend who had provided a false alibi for him in 1987, and who became a key prosecution witness, was cleared of one charge of perverting the course of justice.

Mr Francis's defence notes were stolen from the office of his solicitor, Henri Brandman, and ended up, with comments written on the side, at Archer's solicitors, Mishcon de Reya, who returned them unread. A police investigation is due to start now the trial is over.

Archer may face further investigations, including by the Inland Revenue, over allegations that he evaded thousands of pounds in income tax.

The trial was one of the most bruising and acrimonious to take place at the Old Bailey. Archer, who had become increasingly grey and haggard as his case collapsed around him, wore the same black tie and suit yesterday that he has worn since his mother died on Wednesday last week. Mary Archer wore a dark navy suit, and, for the first time in the trial, a silver crucifix.

At 12.11pm on the 34th day of the trial came the call that, after 23 hours and 31 minutes of deliberation, the jury of six men and five women had reached their verdict. For the first time in the trial, there were two prison officers in the dock with Archer and Mr Francis. Archer sat with his head on his shoulder, in a curiously bird-like posture. Mary Archer sat just outside the dock, straight and tense in her chair. One of her hands clutched that of her elder son, William, sitting beside her; the other clasped and unclasped the crucifix.

The verdicts came very rapidly after such a long and often slow trial. There seemed to be the faintest of shivers inside Archer's grey suit. As he was cleared, Mr Francis breathed out and mouthed "thank you" at the jury. Archer scowled and shook his head.

Mr Justice Potts was coruscating. "These charges represent as serious an offence of perjury as I have had experience of, and as I have been able to find in the books," he said. The judge spoke of how Archer had "corrupted" his PA, Angela Peppiatt ­ "a woman who came to you after a broken marriage and with children to maintain" ­ into forging a diary. Ted Francis was used because Archer knew he was in need of money.

Archer stared at the judge, the muscles in his jaw moving, body thrust forward. Mr Justice Potts continued: "Since then I cannot overlook the fact that you have gone from strength to strength, you resumed your political career, and, at some point, were ennobled to become a member of the House of Lords."

At the end, Archer left the dock to walk down to the cells without a glance at his family or anyone else. There he was offered the standard Old Bailey lunch of pie, chips and peas, which he refused. He was then taken to prison in a van with two men accused of murder, a drug dealer and another man accused of being a child molester.

Outside, Archer's solicitor, Anthone Morton-Hooper, said: "Lord Archer and his family are shocked and disappointed by today's decision. We shall be launching an appeal."

Archer's conviction is hugely embarrassing for the Tory party, which had repeatedly overlooked his financial and sexual misdemeanours and promoted him to its highest reaches. He was on close terms with Baroness Thatcher and John Major, and both supportedhis campaign to be Mayor of London, as did William Hague.

After hearing the verdict, Mr Major said: "I am deeply, deeply sorry at the outcome."