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Jeffrey Archer’s Unhappy Ending

4 minute read
HELEN GIBSON / London

Lord Archer, better known as the best-selling multimillionaire author Jeffrey Archer, is almost as famous for his ability to stage comebacks as he is for getting in trouble. This time, however, the former Conservative Party deputy chairman and one-time London mayoral candidate may find it particularly hard to bounce back — though he will have plenty of spare time to work on it because his lordship is in jail.

Archer, 61, began a four-year prison sentence last week for perjury that the judge described as the most serious he had ever come across. Archer, famed for throwing Krug and shepherd’s pie parties at his art-filled London Thames-side penthouse, was driven off in a van with a convicted murderer. His destination was Belmarsh high security prison — dubbed Hellmarsh by inmates — where he will stay pending an expected transfer to a more congenial jail.

The seven-week trial — on charges that Archer forged a diary and concocted a false alibi to counter a prostitute’s claims of a sexual encounter — seemed the end of the road for the brash former M.P., though it was but one of many scrapes in a roller-coaster career that had taken him from near-bankruptcy in 1974 to literary fame and political influence as a trusted aide of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Archer’s wealth, power and generous hospitality helped him survive, and so did the “enormous energy,” as Thatcher described it, that contributed greatly to Tory fund raising and, as importantly, the raising of party morale in backwoods constituencies. It was easy to turn a deaf ear to complaints that he misrepresented his family background and his educational credentials, to ignore his blatant womanizing and to chuckle over various misdemeanors and misbehaviors. In a bizarre incident in Canada in 1975, he was stopped in a mall with three suits he had somehow forgotten to pay for, but was released without charge. When questions arose over his purchase in 1994 of shares in Anglia TV — where his wife was a board member and which was then in secret takeover talks — lenient authorities cleared him of insider dealing.

Archer’s eventual downfall, however, grew not from a single caper but from a long-running dispute that began in 1986 with tabloid reports that he had sex with a prostitute named Monica Coghlan and then paid her $2,800 to keep quiet about it. Archer insisted he had never met Coghlan, sued for libel and in 1987 won $700,000 in damages against the Star. In court, the jury disbelieved Coghlan’s testimony that the story was true, accepting instead the word of Archer’s wife, Mary, an academic, who testified that her husband had no interest in prostitutes.

Archer might have managed to keep his name clear had he not stood as Tory candidate for London mayor in 1999 — and had he not, 10 years earlier, made an offensive remark in public to former friend Ted Francis, a TV producer. Francis, still bitter at the gibe and angered by Archer’s bid for mayor, went to the News of the World with the story that Archer had asked him to provide a false alibi for the night he allegedly had sex with Coghlan. The tabloid and Francis recorded telephone conversations on the subject, a sting that landed both men in court.

Then there was the careful secretary. Angela Peppiatt, Archer’s secretary during the 1980s, testified that Archer had asked her to fill out a blank diary with false entries for the time he was supposed to have been with Coghlan. Peppiatt did so, but kept evidence and a witnessed statement of what she had done. “By then I had become seriously concerned that I was becoming involved in deception, and I needed a form of protection — insurance, if you like,” she told the court. Peppiatt left her post with Archer in a dispute over money, but kept the documents and the original diary until handing them over to the police in 1999. All that was enough to produce a guilty verdict and the four-year prison sentence, of which he is expected to serve at least two years.

But that is not the end of his troubles. Archer faces a possible tax inquiry into his financial affairs, the renamed Daily Star wants $3 million, his wife may face a police investigation into her testimony during the trial and politicians are demanding retraction of the peerage former Prime Minister John Major awarded him in 1992.

So, is it all over? Maybe not. Just before his trial Archer had the audacity to write, stage and act in a courtroom drama called The Accused where audiences were asked to judge him guilty or not guilty. During his real trial Archer took copious notes. He will now have plenty of time to write a blockbuster from behind bars.

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