Heseltine shifts on publication of Archer report

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL HESELTINE yesterday substantially shifted his position on the publication of the report into Lord Archer's association with Anglia Television shares, by stating there would be 'no legal barrier' to releasing 'the facts' gathered by the inquiry.

But Mr Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, told Labour's City spokesman, Alistair Darling, that a key part of the report - 'the inspector's judgement' - could not be published, and that his department would be taking 'no further action'.

However Labour will now see a chink in the armour of the Department of Trade and Industry and is likely to continue its campaign to have the report's findings made public.

In a letter to Mr Darling, Mr Heseltine states that the 'facts ascertained' by the DTI 'are inevitably the product of the information provided by a variety of witnesses'.

In an earlier letter to Robin Cook, Labour's trade spokesman, dated 6 September, Mr Heseltine maintained that 'it is not correct that there is no legal barrier to publication of the inspector's report'. However the new DTI line appears to be that limited publication of the report could go ahead if 'consent of all those concerned' was obtained.

After receiving the report of the five-month inquiry, Mr Heseltine decided in July that 'no action' would be taken against Lord Archer. His association with the purchase of 50,000 Anglia shares on the eve of a pounds 292m take-over resulted in an pounds 80,000 profit. Lord Archer last month apologised for his 'grave error' in allowing association with the purchase. His wife, Dr Mary Archer is a director of the company. Inquiries by the Stock Exchange and Anglia cleared Dr Archer of not fulfilling her duties as a director. Lord Archer ordered the 50,000 shares, had them registered in an associate's name, Broosk Saib, and had the cheque for pounds 80,000 (made out to Mr Saib) sent to his London address. Lord Archer has denied he benefited from the deal.

Yesterday Mr Darling asked Mr Heseltine to seek the consent of those questioned in the report and 'to publish the information provided to the inspectors'.

For the DTI even a limited publication of its inquiry will set a precedent. Mr Darling, himself a lawyer, said: 'From the start this case has been handled in a highly unusual and orthodox manner. There is much information in the public domain and the public now demand that they can see all the information provided to the DTI inspectors.'

Lord Archer - back in Britain after being abroad on a book promotion tour - was called on by Mr Darling to 'make a full and frank statement as to why these shares were purchased'. The threat of Labour raising the matter under Commons privilege was reinforced by Mr Darling. 'This matter will not go away,' he said. 'If there is no satisfactory explanation, we will raise it in the Commons when it returns in October.'

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