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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Lady Archer defends her marriage
Lord and Lady Archer
Lady Archer dismissed suggestions of a marriage rift
Lord Archer's wife Mary has taken the stand for the first time to give evidence at her husband's Old Bailey perjury trial.

She wasted no time in refuting the suggestion by Lord Archer's former secretary Angela Peppiatt, that the couple led "separate lives".

She also revealed she first learned of her husband's affair with his former personal assistant Andrina Colquhoun through a newspaper gossip column.


He would not have been the first aspiring politician to have had the odd fling

Mary Archer
Lord Archer faces dishonesty charges arising from his successful 1987 High Court libel action when he won 500,000 damages from the Daily Star over an allegation that he slept with a prostitute.

The former Tory peer denies three counts of perverting justice, two of perjury and one count of using a diary as a false instrument.

His co-defendant, retired television producer Ted Francis, 67, denies one count of perverting justice.

'Utter nonsense'

Dressed in a smart black suit, Lady Archer entered the witness box watched from the dock by her husband, and from the public gallery by the couple's two sons.

Asked by defence counsel Nicholas Purnell QC about Miss Peppiatt's claim of a marital rift, she said: "It is complete and utter nonsense."

David Waters QC, prosecuting, asked Lady Archer whether she had been aware of her husband's affair with Miss Colquhoun. "Yes I was," she said.

Angela Peppiatt outside the Old Bailey during the prosecution case
Angela Peppiatt has given evidence against her former boss
She revealed she had first learned of the affair when a friend asked her to read a newspaper gossip column, 18 months before the libel trial.

Mr Waters asked if it would have been damaging to Lord Archer's political career.

She said: "He would not have been the first aspiring politician to have had the odd fling."

The prosecutor asked if she had tried to "cover up" the affair.

Lady Archer said: "No, maybe make light of it. By the time I discovered, it was in the past - wives are not the first to find out about these matters."

Mr Purnell asked Lady Archer about the evidence she gave at the 1987 libel hearing.

Andrina Colquhoun, Lord Archer's former personal assistant
Lady Archer was 'not the first' to hear about her husband's affair with Miss Colquhoun
Asked to confirm if her comments at the time that her marriage was "happy and full", were correct, she replied: "They were indeed Mr Purnell."

Roy Amlot QC, for Mr Francis, asked her: "In 1986 and 1987, as a matter of fact, was there any strain in your marriage?"

She replied: "No, Mr Amlot, except that engendered by the libel case, not so much a strain on our marriage, but in our lives.

"I think we explored the further reaches of for better or for worse than some other married couples and that was a very traumatic time."

Diary 'unfamiliar'

She denied that Lord Archer had kept the 500,000 damages from the libel hearing, saying they had given it, and more besides, to charity.

Mr Purnell also asked Lady Archer what she could remember about her husband's diaries, which were produced at the libel trial.

Describing an Economist diary for 1986, and an A4 office diary, she said both were kept at the couple's London flat, Alembic House.

Shown the diary at the centre of the prosecution case, alleged to have been Lord Archer's genuine 1986 diary, she was asked if it was familiar to her.

Lady Archer said she had never seen the diary before, adding that she habitually examined the diaries at Alembic house to see what her husband was doing that day.

"It's no good asking him," she said. "He doesn't work that way."

The trial continues.

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The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"She came to back his claim that he hadn't lied"
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