Lady Archer wins court fight to stop aide selling her secrets

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The Independent Online

Lady Archer won a legal battle yesterday to prevent her former personal assistant disclosing information on her to the media. But the judge urged the women to call a truce in their dispute.

After a four-day High Court hearing, Mr Justice Jackson ruled that Lady Archer, 58, wife of the jailed peer Jeffrey Archer, was entitled to a wide-ranging injunction against Jane Williams, her employee for 13 years until November 2001, and damages of £2,500. He said Lady Archer was not "a public figure" whose activities could be scrutinised in the public interest.

Lady Archer alleged that Ms Williams, 49, was the indirect source of a Sunday Mirror story in February 2002 about a facelift and her friendship with Professor Stephen Feldberg.

Ms Williams, who was once described by Lady Archer as her "second skin, her mission control, her right hand", accepted her former boss was entitled to an injunction but challenged its scope.

The judge said there had been a six-day employment tribunal hearing into Ms Williams' claim of unfair dismissal and the current case.

"Despite the confines of the injunction, Ms Williams is still able to go on making hurtful public statements about Lady Archer, and Lady Archer, armed with this judgment and a likely costs order, can greatly increase Ms Williams's present acute financial difficulties.

"Lady Archer and Ms Williams have worked together harmoniously and successfully for many years to their mutual benefit. I very much hope that in the aftermath of this trial, they are both able to arrive at some sort of truce."

Lady Archer said: "The judgment is a complete vindication of the action I started last year, and I am only sorry that the matter had to come as far as court to be resolved." Ms Williams did not comment.

Lady Archer's lawyers claimed Ms Williams committed an "appalling breach of trust'' by supplying the News of the World and the publicist Max Clifford with a 13-page fax containing detailed and confidential extracts from Lady Archer's working diaries. She was also said to have a £50,000 agreement with Associated Newspapers for her story.

Awarding the damages for the distress caused by the disclosure of the facelift, the judge said Lady Archer was not "a role model", but a highly successful career woman with a number of academic publications and a busy life. She had been brought into the spotlight because of her marriage to Lord Archer and, said the judge, "the nature of Lord Archer's various achievements and activities".

The injunction covers details of Lady Archers' medical treatments or cosmetic surgery, her e-mails and correspondence, her financial, business and office affairs, the sexual relationship between herself and her husband and the sexual relationships of their children and information on their home life, guests and staff.

In evidence, Ms Williams said she saw nothing wrong with digging herself out of debt by writing, like Lord Archer. She wanted to relate "amusing anecdotes" about her years with the family and denied acting through "spite and greed".

The judge rejected her claim that it was not foreseeable the fax, which she supplied under a confidentiality agreement, would lead to the Sunday Mirror article.

Since Lady Archer had paid for the diaries in which her PA recorded her movements, she was the legal owner and they should be returned to her. He also said the contents of the fax were not in the public domain.

Ms Williams had given the prosecution a witness statement during the trial of Lord Archer on perjury charges and was subsequently asked by Lady Archer not to work with her for the duration of the trial. She had returned to work after Lord Archer's conviction, but refused to sign a confidentiality agreement. She was eventually dismissed in November 2001.

* Lord Archer is to give a lecture on prison conditions when he is released from Hollesley Bay prison in Suffolk. The peer, serving four years, will speak at a conference organised by the Howard League for Penal Reform, at Oxford University on 17 to 19 September, if he is released in time. He is due to be paroled on 19 July.