Secretary 'had basket of Archer's pre-signed cheques'

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The Independent Online

Jeffrey Archer kept a picnic basket full of blank pre-signed chequebooks on a shelf in his riverside flat in London, to which his secretary could help herself, the Old Bailey was told yesterday.

Angela Peppiatt is said to have had carte blanche to fill in cheques to pay herself and other staff working for the Tory party's deputy chairman at Conservative Central Office.

Ms Peppiatt, who alleges that Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare asked her to put fake entries into a blank diary for use in his libel case against the Daily Star newspaper in 1987, also used the chequebooks to settle the peer's bills. They were pre-signed, the court was told, because of his hectic political and social life.

The chequebooks covered Lord Archer's share account, his private account and a business account. Ms Peppiatt told the court: "I would tell him when we were running out. There was a picnic basket where the cheques were kept .... It was a system."

The witness, who now works for an educational charity, was Lord Archer's secretary for three years, during which he was made deputy chairman of the Conservative party.

The jury was told that Ms Peppiatt, 56, had taken part in the alleged diary forgery despite her "deep misgivings", because she did not want to lose her job. She agreed with the Nicholas Purnell QC, representing Lord Archer, that she had not been offered any "added financial incentive over and above her wages, no extra rewards thereafter" for what she claims to have done.

Mr Purnell told the court that "Jeffrey Archer was not a diary person", and said it was Ms Peppiatt's job "to juggle the appointments and determine and identify the running order".

He said that at the time the peer was very busy touring constituencies in preparation for a general election, because he had taken on the work of the Tory party chairman, Norman Tebbit, now Lord Tebbit, who had been injured in an IRA bomb attack on the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Tories' 1984 party conference.

Lord Archer, Mr Purnell said, depended on a typed index card of his appointments, prepared daily for him by Ms Peppiatt at Smith Square, whom he was paying £22,000 a year ­ substantially more than other staff at Conservative Central Office.

Ms Peppiatt said: "Jeffrey didn't carry more paper than he needed to." Such was Lord Archer's value to the Tories that he retained his position in the highest reaches of the party even after he resigned as its deputy chairman in October 1986, when the News of the World published an article linking him with the prostitute Monica Coghlan.

When the story was repeated by the Daily Star Lord Archer successfully sued the paper over claims that he had picked up Ms Coghlan in Mayfair and paid £70 to spend the night with her at a hotel in Victoria, central London. The Star was ordered to pay £500,000. Yesterday, Mr Purnell accused Ms Peppiatt of not being completely open with the police when they began to investigate the Tory peer on suspicion of perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice during his 1987 trial.

Mr Purnell said she had originally refused to give Scotland Yard detectives the original copies of documents she had kept about the alleged forgery. He also claimed that Ms Peppiatt had been inaccurate and misleading in her claim that she had been asked to fill in the blank diary.

Ms Peppiatt replied that while their may have been inaccuracies in her police statements, the peer certainly had asked her to become involved in the deception and did so when no one else was present in the room. "Jeffrey Archer would not have made such a request in front of everyone else," she told the court.

Lord Archer was accompanied in court yesterday by his two sons, William and James, who sat below the dock.

The peer and novelist, who is 61, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of perverting the course of justice, two of perjury and one of using a false instrument with the intention of inducing the newspaper to accept it as genuine.

His co-accused, Ted Francis, 67, denies one charge of perverting the course of justice in providing Lord Archer with a false alibi for his libel case.

The prosecution alleges that Lord Archer produced a forged version of Ms Peppiatt's main office diary, and tampered with his own diary to cover his movements before the court hearing against the paper. They claim that the peer had intended to use the diary entries to support his alibi ­ that he was having dinner with Mr Francis at the time he was reported to have been with Ms Coghlan.

The trial continues.