Secretary identifies Archer's 'real diary'

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The Independent Online

Another former secretary of Jeffrey Archer appeared at the Old Bailey yesterday to back prosecution claims that he produced a forged diary at his victorious 1987 libel trial.

Caroline Norman identified a diary the Tory peer's staff referred to as the "master book" as the one she saw every day at his office. The diary shown to the jury was a slim A5 book. The diary Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare presented at his 1987 trial was an A4 volume. It was a crucial piece of evidence that helped him to secure £500,000 in damages from the Daily Star for claiming that he slept with a prostitute, Monica Coghlan, at a hotel in Victoria, central London.

The court was told that the "genuine" diary was kept by Angela Peppiatt, Lord Archer's senior secretary, until she handed it to Scotland Yard detectives investigating the former Conservative Party deputy chairman two years ago. The allegedly false diary was returned to Lord Archer and has not been seen again.

Ms Norman, who worked for Lord Archer for two and half years at Tory Central Office and at his flat overlooking the Thames in London, also confirmed to the court that she had signed a memo given to her by Ms Peppiatt, who allegedly forged the diary on the peer's instructions.

The memo was written by Ms Peppiatt ­ who has spent several days giving evidence in the case ­ as "insurance" because she was frightened of the possible consequences of what she had been asked to do. The jury was told earlier that Ms Norman typed up the memo as well as signing it. Ms Norman told the court: "I vaguely remember signing this document. I do not remember specific conversations."

Asked about the "insurance'' memo, Ms Norman said: "I cannot remember when Mrs Peppiatt signed the documents or where she signed it.''

Ms Norman was also unable to remember whether she signed cheques on behalf of Lord Archer. The peer kept a pile of signed blank cheques in a picnic basket at his apartment, the court has been told.

Ms Norman confirmed she had received a bonus from Lord Archer at Christmas 1987, after the libel trial. It was the only time he had given her a bonus. But she told the court: "I don't remember how much it was."

Lord Archer smiled at Ms Norman, wearing a black jacket and dark brown dress, as she began giving evidence in court number eight. She was not cross-examined by his counsel.

The start of yesterday's hearing was delayed until 2pm because of legal arguments. Lord Archer, 61, denies four counts of perverting the course of justice, two of perjury and one of using the diary as a false instrument.

A former friend, Ted Francis, 67, a television producer, denies perverting the course of justice by providing Lord Archer with a false alibi.

Mr Francis was not in the court yesterday because he was said to be unwell. Lord Archer was accompanied by his son, James.

The trial continues.