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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 20:07 GMT 21:07 UK
Jail culture shock for Archer
Archer prison graphic
Lord Archer has been sentenced to four years in jail. Like another disgraced Tory before him - Jonathan Aitken - the humiliated peer will find prison life a considerable culture shock.

Jeffrey Archer, a denizen of gentlemen's clubs and plush restaurants, is in for a shock.

From the Old Bailey he will be taken to a reception prison - probably Belmarsh in south east London - where he will undergo an assessment to decide where he should serve his sentence. The assessment will take up to three months.

A Prison Service spokeswoman told BBC News Online: "A prisoner is categorised, depending on their security risk to the public, their health, religion and vulnerability."


Once a prisoner is given a custodial sentence they are treated no differently no matter what their social standing.

Prison Service spokeswoman
She said: "Sentencing is a matter for the judge, but once a prisoner is given a custodial sentence they are treated no differently no matter what their social standing."

If Jonathan Aitken, another disgraced Tory, is anything to go by, Archer will probably serve the majority of his sentence at a fairly low security jail.

Among those which will be considered are Ford in West Sussex, Standford Hill in Kent and Highpoint in Suffolk.

'Better than holiday camp'

Open prisons have no perimeter fence or barbed wire. Inmates are trusted not to attempt escape.

Former footballer George Best, after a brief spell inside, described Ford as "better than a holiday camp".

But jail is jail and Archer - a noted bon viveur - will be away from his family, friends and business, locked up every night and forced to eat prison food.

Lord Archer
The noted bon viveur will have to get used to prison food
Norman Parker, a convicted killer who is now an author and journalist, told BBC News Online: "Within no time he will be in Ford, and everything will be very cushy.

"He'll be among crooked stockbrokers and bank managers and others of his own ilk.

"He will probably get home leave within a few months and you'll see him around town."

After his release from prison last year Aitken, a former cabinet minister who was jailed for 18 months for perjury in relation to a libel case against The Guardian, said his time inside had been rough.

He told BBC News 24 after Archer's conviction he had "human sympathy" for him and he faced "difficult moments".

Tough reality

"It is a very painful, humiliating, and disorientating price [to pay].

"His heart will be in his boots as the reality of his situation dawns on him.

"It is a very tough and testing reality."


It is a very painful, humiliating, and disorientating price

Jonathan Aitken
Aitken described the daunting process of being led down from the dock to a subterranean holding cell before being transferred to Belmarsh.

"It's like entering a new world - someone said to me in Belmarsh 'welcome to hell' and it wasn't a bad description.

"You are led in handcuffs past barking dogs and shouting warders. You are stripsearched."

Aitken said Archer would not initially be treated like other prisoners.

Human kindness

"It increases the pain that you are a high profile prisoner - people react differently to you.

"There is a lot of human kindness around in prison but there also can be some rough customers both in uniform and prison uniform," he said.

Aitken also said Archer could find redemption in prison with the right attitude.

"He is a man of some courage, even if it has been courage tinged with recklessness, and a man of some resilience.

"After the disorientating process everyone goes through at the beginning I think he will find his feet.

"My own prison sentence changed me for the better."

Punched by fellow inmate

He was nicknamed "Tory Boy" by fellow cons, one of whom punched him because he thought he had been given preferential treatment.


He has dealt with people from all walks of life as a politician, and as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, and people will like him

Lady Aitken

Prison officers also discovered a plot by inmates to drug Aitken, strip him and take compromising photographs with another naked man.

He was moved to another prison to serve out his last few days.

As a literate and worldly figure with widespread knowledge of politics and the law, Archer can expect many fellow inmates knocking on his cell door looking for help in putting together appeals and petitions.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Former Tory Cabinet Minister, Jonathan Aitkin
"I feel for him"
The BBC's Robert Hall, at Belmarsh prison
"This is a high security category A prison"


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19 Jul 01 | UK
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