Archer's friend tells of £12,000 'bribery'

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The Independent Online

A former friend of Jeffrey Archer told an Old Bailey jury yesterday he had provided a false alibi for the Tory peer and been paid for it.

The evidence of Ted Francis, a key prosecution witness, was unchallenged by Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, who is facing charges of perjury and forgery over his 1987 libel trial.

Mr Francis, 67, told the jury that he had provided details of a fictitious dinner date he was supposed to have shared with the former Conservative Party deputy chairman. In return he was handed £12,000 in cash at the end of a strange tour of banks in different parts of London. "It was like playing a game of Monopoly," he said.

The jury was told that Mr Francis believed he was helping his friend save his crumbling marriage. Lord Archer had told him the dinner had been with his mistress, Andrina Colquhoun, and he was afraid that his wife, Mary, would find out.

Mr Francis maintained he had no idea that Lord Archer intended to use the false alibi in his defamation case in which he had sued the Daily Star newspaper over allegations he had picked up a prostitute, Monica Coghlan, and had sex with her at a hotel in Victoria.

Asked why he had not raised the matter of his alibi with Lord Archer when the libel case began, Mr Francis said: "We didn't have a kind of 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink, what have you been up to!' kind of relationship."

Mr Francis, wearing a navy blazer, gray slacks and blue and red striped tie, recalled that the proposition to lie on behalf of Lord Archer came during a hastily organised dinner at the Sambuca restaurant in January 1987.

After pointing out Ernest Saunders, the former Guinness boss later to be convicted of fraud, and introducing him to the maitre d', the Tory peer leant forward and said: "I want us to have had dinner here in September last year", Mr Francis told the court

"He told me that he was having a problem with Mary over his affair with Andrina and that he had promised her that the affair was over. But he had dinner with Andrina in September and he was worried that Mary might find out. He said it was a very serious matter and it could lead to the break-up of the marriage. He said he wanted me to write to his solicitors saying we had dinner that particular night. He said it would be more convincing coming from his solicitor than coming from me.

"Initially, I thought very hard about it. I was a bit concerned about it, but if it was the cause of preventing his marriage break up, I thought no harm was done. I said, 'If it comes to divorce, I am not going to commit perjury. I am certainly not going to give evidence'." Soon after the dinner Mr Francis was told that he would receive £20,000 from Lord Archer to finance a projected television production of a series based on Enid Blyton's works. "Telly Savalas had agreed to play the villain and Nanette Newman had given a loose commitment," he told the jury.

He had asked for funding, unsuccessfully, from the millionaire author. Mr Francis told the jury: "I think I considered that having agreed to help him, he agreed to help me."

Mr Francis said he found the method of payment decidedly odd. He met Lord Archer and Ms Colquhoun and then accompanied them to a bank where an official was waiting with £8,000. He counted the money, Lord Archer then took it and promptly handed it back to the official.

Mr Francis was then instructed to go to another branch. "I was puzzled about it, I was told to go to Sloane Street and collect the money there.

"I was taken to a small room and given the money and signed a receipt for £12,000."

The final amount Mr Francis got was £12,000, not the £20,000 promised. Lord Archer told him it was for tax reasons and he would be given the rest when he had repaid the first £10,000.

Lord Archer, 61, denies two charges of perjury, three charges of perverting the course of justice and one of using a false instrument, a desk diary. Mr Francis denies one charge of perverting the course of justice.

The trial continues.