Mary Archer tells court of 'betrayal' over her face lift

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Lady Archer took the extraordinary step of describing in court yesterday her determination to ensure that her face-lift remained a secret.

The wife of Jeffrey Archer, the jailed peer, revealed that she had not even informed her sister that she had undergone the cosmetic surgery in a bid to keep the matter "private".

Lady Archer, 58, made what are thought to be her first public comments on the face-lift as she launched legal action against her former personal assistant, Jane Williams, who allegedly sold details of her private life to the media.

The High Court case involved Lady Archer seeking damages and a permanent injunction against Ms Williams, claiming that she had acted in breach of confidence.

Ms Williams, 49, Lady Archer's personal assistant and "most trusted member of staff" for 13 years until her dismissal in November 2001, has denied that she was the source of the story.

The High Court heard how Lady Archer was "shocked" to discover details of her face-lift appear in a Sunday Mirror article in February 2002.

"I haven't read and re-read it because I find it so distasteful," she told the court. "But, accurate or not, I object to the disclosure of private information.

"And the most objectionable thing about it is not only the fact contained in it, but the very fact of its existence and the betrayal that it was clear I had suffered at Jane's hands. That was a very great shock to me."

Lady Archer described how one of the very few people who knew about the facelift was the adopted sister of Lord Archer, a qualified nurse based in New York, where she underwent the surgery.

However, she insisted that to ensure that the matter remained private, she "absolutely did not" discuss with her employees details of the surgery, which reportedly took place in New York in 1997 and 1998.

"I was unhappy, very unhappy about the fact of the disclosure of this surgery," she said.

"My sister is supporting me in court. I did not even tell her, simply because I wished to keep the matter entirely private."

She added: "I went to very, very great lengths to keep this secret simply because I prefer to keep such matters private. And so I was distressed to find it in this article and it, of course, attracted the sort of comment you would expect it to from our tabloid press."

It was during cross examination by Ramby de Mello, counsel for Ms Williams, that Lady Archer offered a rare insight into her views on extensive press coverage that has focused on her physical appearance.

When Mr de Mello asked if her distress was linked to the fact that the tabloids were interested in her appearance, Lady Archer said: "The tabloid press is obsessed with everybody's appearance and looks."

Mr de Mello: "And do you dislike that curiosity and interest in your make-up, your physiognomy, your appearance?"

Lady Archer: "I find it curious but I don't dislike it. One just tolerates it."

Mr de Mello: "Aren't you flattered by the attention the press pays to your looks, good looks - the way you conduct yourself, the way you presented yourself at your husband's trial?"

Lady Archer: "Sometimes I'm flattered because they say nice things. Sometimes I'm rather hurt because they say very unkind things."

The source of the stories came from working diaries for which Ms Williams was indirectly responsible, according to Lady Archer.

While she said she did not believe that other members of staff may have leaked the story, she revealed that since the incident she had invested in a shredder to ensure that a repeat incident would not take place.

"It's perfectly true that my housekeeper and gardener could have acted as Jane did - but they did not and she did," Lady Archer said.

"I do now have a shredder, having learnt the damage that can be done by a disloyal member of staff."

Referring to how she believed Ms Williams had no right to report any details of her family life, she added: "She worked in my home, and visitors to my home, my family and friends were entitled to think they were in a private place.

"They do not deserve to have themselves served up on a platter with a sauce of malice for the tabloid newspapers by a disaffected former employee."

Although Lady Archer has not taken legal action against the Sunday Mirror, which printed the February 2002 article, she revealed that she may do so in the future, referring to the period of six years from the date of publication during which she remains legally entitled to sue.

Thomas Linden, counsel for Lady Archer, claimed that Ms Williams had made contact with a string of newspapers between August 2001 and February 2002.

It was alleged that the former PA had faxed a 13-page document of extracts of Lady Archer's working diaries to the publicist Max Clifford and to the News of the World before she reportedly signed a £50,000 agreement with Associated Newspapers for her story.

Lady Archer did not accept Ms Williams' denial that she was the source, according to Mr Linden.

The hearing continues today.