Another Archer Mystery

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He is styled Lord Archer, a member of Britain's House of Lords, but is better known as Jeffrey Archer, millionaire best-selling author, former Conservative Party deputy chairman and one-time London mayoral candidate. But by whatever name, he is in trouble--yet again. Last Friday, police arrested and questioned the 59-year-old peer at a London police station over allegations that he had attempted to pervert the course of justice. After several hours, Archer was released on bail.

Archer has landed himself in a number of scrapes throughout a colorful career that took him from penniless writer to one of Margaret Thatcher's trusted aides. He has always bounced back, but his past haunts him. Last week's arrest has its roots in an incident going back to l986 when two tabloids claimed Archer had paid a prostitute called Monica Coghlan $3,200 to buy her silence. Archer insisted he had never met her, and won $800,000 in damages in a libel action against the Star during which the jury accepted that there had been no sexual involvement with Coghlan.

Despite the court victory, Archer resigned as deputy chairman and rehabilitated himself by working as a party stalwart in backwood constituencies. He also wrote best-seller novels and was made a peer by John Major in 1992. There were other problems, though, including questions about his purchase in 1994 of shares in Anglia TV, where his wife was a director, prior to a takeover. He was cleared of insider dealing and again recovered enough to be chosen as the party's candidate for London mayor. Then the Coghlan case resurfaced.

Last November, a former friend alleged that Archer, in the run-up to the 1987 libel case, had asked him to say they had dined together on the night that Archer was alleged by the Star to have consorted with Coghlan. As it happened, the tabloid changed the date of the alleged encounter with Coghlan and the alibi was not used in the court case, which Archer won.

Archer admitted that he had procured the fabrication of the false alibi--but claimed it had been to protect the identity of a female friend with whom he had been dining that night. A Tory ethics committee, however, expelled Archer from the party for five years, while the renamed Daily Star said it would seek to win back the damages and the police checked into the case.

The arrest came as Archer appeared to be making yet another comeback. He was to star in a West End theater production of a play he has recently written. There were also reports that his publisher would be signing him up for three more books. Past books include Twelve Red Herrings and Honour Among Thieves. The next might be called The Comeback Kid.