Archer in court over libel case 'false alibi'

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Indy Politics

Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare took centre stage as the accused in a real-life legal drama yesterday when he made his first appearance in court charged with asking a friend to provide false evidence for a libel trial.

Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare took centre stage as the accused in a real-life legal drama yesterday when he made his first appearance in court charged with asking a friend to provide false evidence for a libel trial.

The former deputy Tory Party chairman faces five charges - two of perjury, two of perverting the course of justice and one of using a false instrument - relating to diaries used in his libel trial against the Daily Star in 1987.

Lord Archer stepped out of his chauffeur driven BMW and walked briskly into Bow St Magistrates Court in London's Covent Garden wishing the massed photographers a wry "good morning".

His co-accused and former friend, Ted Francis, had arrived earlier to face a single charge of perverting the course of justice. It is alleged that Lord Archer asked Mr Francis, a television producer, to lie for him in order to provide a false alibi for his libel case.

As part of the legal process, they are required to appear before a magistrate to be remanded. The two men spoke only to confirm their names and give their addresses. They sat at opposite ends of the dock and did not acknowledge each other during the seven-minute hearing.

The courtroom was packed with court staff who, although usually impervious to the high profile hearings at Bow St, wanted to catch a glimpse of their celebrity defendant.

District Judge Workman insisted that the full indictment - which gave new details of the allegations against Lord Archer - be read out in court for the public and press. Lord Archer, wearing a navy blue suit, blue shirt and red and grey striped tie, sat impassively throughout. His only sign of emotion was the repetitive flexing of his jaw muscle.

The charges stem from the Daily Star allegations that Lord Archer had a sexual relationship with Monica Coughlan, a prostitute, in September 1986. At the time, Lord Archer vigorously denied the Star's claim and won a libel action and £500,000 in damages against the paper. Mr Francis had given a statement that Lord Archer was with him and not Coughlan.

The indictment said Lord Archer was charged with perjury over "a series of acts" and had falsified diary records to back up his story. Lord Archer knew he was required to hand over for the libel case his main office diary for September 1986, according to the indictment. But while the office had a blue A5 size Dataday diary for the period, the indictment says Lord Archer; "Wilfully failed to reveal the existence of or to produce the said diary."

He then gave his secretary, Angela Peppiatt, a blank A4 size appointments diary for 1986 together with details of entries which he instructed her to write into the diary.

Lord Archer is accused of giving the new dairy to the solicitors acting on his behalf, "falsely as the genuine original main office diary employed in his office in September 1986".

Lord Archer was also charged with perjury over a statement he swore under oath relating to the libel case. "A statement material in that proceedings which he knew to be false, namely that The Economist Diary 1986, the appointments diary for 1986 and a daily list of appointments, were the only documents of the nature described in this schedule to an order dated 17 June 1987 which were or have at any time been in his, possession custody or power."

Both men were remanded to reappear at Bow Street in six weeks. The only condition of their bail was that they should not approach any prosecution witnesses.

Lord Archer will be in the dock again tonight, this time on stage at the Theatre Royal, Windsor where the peer is playing the accused in his courtroom drama. At the end of each performance, the audience is invited to decide on the guilt or innocence of his character - a doctor accused of murdering his wife.

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