Archer furious at fresh scrutiny of Anglia share deal

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STEPHEN BYERS defended his decision to reopen an inquiry into Jeffrey Archer's share dealings yesterday, denying that he was "playing politics" with the Tories' candidate for London mayor.

STEPHEN BYERS defended his decision to reopen an inquiry into Jeffrey Archer's share dealings yesterday, denying that he was "playing politics" with the Tories' candidate for London mayor.

Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare repeated his claim that the inquiry was a smear attempt, but the Trade and Industry Secretary said new evidence about the Anglia Television deal had prompted his action. Mr Byers asked his permanent secretary, Sir Michael Scholar, to examine whether fresh disclosures on the 1994 deal warrant a full inquiry.

He took action after Lord Archer's solicitors wrote to The Economist magazine about his purchase of Anglia shares worth £250,000 while his wife, Mary, was on the board. The shares were sold within hours at a profit of £77,219, days before a takeover bid for the firm was launched.

Mr Archer said he was acting for a Kurdish associate, Broosk Saib, but sources at the Department of Trade and Industry said his solicitors' letter raised new questions about when Mr Saib became involved.

Mr Byers told The Sunday Programme on GMTV: "I am not playing politics because the decision as to whether or not there will be an investigation will not be taken by myself but will be taken by my senior civil servants and they will not be subject to any political influence. But there is now new evidence, a new explanation by Jeffrey Archer as to why he purchased those shares and I think I have a responsibility to draw that to the attention of my officials and they will decide whether or not there should be a fresh investigation."

Lord Archer, who appeared with Ken Livingstone yesterday at the launch of a new cross-London footway, claimed the move was no more than a "politically inspired leak". The London mayoral candidate and multi-millionaire novelist was fuming at the prospect of the investigation.

He called it part of a plot against rivals to Labour's Frank Dobson. "Over the last few weeks, we have seen the Prime Minister see off Nick Raynsford, bribe Trevor Phillips, rubbish Glenda Jackson, smear Ken Livingstone, and now it's my turn," he said. "Wouldn't it be simpler for Mr Blair just to appoint Frank Dobson as mayor of London?"

Steven Norris, the former transport minister who was beaten by Lord Archer to the Tory candidacy and who once said he would not support him "dead or alive," said he took no pleasure in his rival's plight and denied he hoped to take over if Lord Archer was forced to quit the race. "I am as keen as him to see this cleared up," he said. "Mr Byers must do what he must do, but it did look politically motivated."

Mr Livingstone said: "I am not going to make any attacks on anyone." He and Lord Archer left the ceremony together. Mr Livingstone told reporters: "We're walking off into the sunset together like a couple of old gays at a wedding."

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