Mary Archer's ex-PA refuses to 'sell her soul to the devil'

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An acrimonious court battle between Mary Archer and her former personal assistant was reignited yesterday when the adversaries failed to agree a deal on legal costs.

An acrimonious court battle between Mary Archer and her former personal assistant was reignited yesterday when the adversaries failed to agree a deal on legal costs.

Jane Williams rejected an undisclosed offer from her former employer to reduce the outstanding costs against her of £170,000 resulting from a High Court case last July, saying such a deal would "involve me selling my soul to the devil".

Hostilities between the women surfaced in the case last year when Lady Archer, 58, called her former employee a "bitch" in court after she was accused of leaking details of a "nip and tuck" operation to a newspaper.

Ms Williams, 50, refused the costs offer, despite being nearly bankrupted when the court ruled last year she had caused Lady Archer "hurt feelings" by claiming that she had a facelift. After the case, she was also issued with an injunction banning her from revealing any secrets from her 13 years with the Archer family.

Ms Williams, 50, had to sell her home to pay a £160,000 bill from her own solicitors, plus £2,500 damages awarded to Lady Archer for her hurt feelings over a newspaper article - for which Ms Williams was said to be the indirect source.

At yesterday's hearing at the Supreme Court Costs Office, Ms Williams gave her response to a confidential nine-point settlement proposed by Lady Archer which was said by her lawyer to offer Ms Williams "an alternative to financial meltdown, which is not the aim of my client".

But Ms Williams told an official costs assessor: "It is a proposal which would involve me selling my soul to the devil. She is just persecuting me. I think they would be ashamed to relay the details to you."

Ms Williams asked for more time to challenge certain items in Lady Archer's costs bill, but then said that, no matter how much it might be reduced, she would never be able to pay unless she won the lottery.

"I'm just running on empty. There is no point. If she wants to bankrupt me, let her get on with it. I would prefer the axe to fall and get it over with," she told Deputy Master Brown.

The master said she had been "very frank" and he had no alternative but to dismiss her application.

Lady Archer's solicitor, Anthony Morton-Hooper, had stressed that Ms Williams was forced to sell her house to pay her own legal costs and that only £2,500 had gone to his client. He told the hearing: "Lady Archer's position is that she would not wish upon Ms Williams any further financial hardship. However, the liability is still there.

"I would like the court to know that a settlement proposal has been made to Ms Williams which would involve her being relieved of her liability under this costs order. We have not been able to reach an agreement, but that offer remains open to her."

He said that he would not go into details of the offer in open court so as not to prejudice its chances.

After Ms Williams rejected the offer, Mr Morton-Hooper said: "I will pay for her to take independent legal advice on that proposal to settle. I promise to Ms Williams on behalf of my client that I will pay for her to be independently advised by a solicitor as to the terms of the settlement proposal. I don't know what more my client can do."