Those Suits

Paul Foot

  • Jeffrey Archer: Stranger than Fiction by Michael Crick
    Hamish Hamilton, 456 pp, £17.50, May 1995, ISBN 0 241 13360 2

Reviewing this book gives me a chance to indulge in my most bitterly regretted journalistic failure. In the autumn of 1987, shortly after the famous libel action in which Jeffrey Archer successfully sued the Daily Star for suggesting he’d had sex with a prostitute, a curious document arrived at my office at the Daily Mirror, where I wrote a weekly investigative column. The document was a copy of a pro forma shoplifter’s report from the Robert Simpson Company Ltd, which owns a department store in Toronto. The report was timed at 10.40 a.m. on 18 November 1975, and was in the form of a voluntary statement, as follows: ‘I Jeffrey Howard Archer do state that I took merchandise to the value of $540, the property of the Robert Simpson Company Ltd, on November 18 1975 without paying for same and without permission.’

The details of the aforesaid Jeffrey Howard Archer were then filled in as follows: sex: male; age: 35; date of birth: 15.4.1940; height: 5 ft 10 ins; weight: 165 lbs; eyes: blue; hair: brown; married: yes; address: 24A The Boltons, London SW1. The merchandise taken was listed as three suits, valued at $140, $175 and $225, and the witnesses to the document were two Simpson’s store detectives, M. St Jean and Y. Jorken. Across the bottom of the document were typed the words: ‘charges withdrawn at request of 52 detectives’ (Toronto’s No 52 police precinct covers the area round Simpson’s).

The story of Archer and the suits had been vaguely circulating round Fleet Street for some years. While preparing a profile of Archer when he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party in 1985, my Mirror colleague Bryan Rostron and I wrote to him asking about the Toronto rumour. Back came a firm reply from Geoffrey Grimes, a celebrated solicitor then acting for Archer: ‘Mr Archer was not involved in this incident.’ That seemed to be the end of the matter. Two years later, how were we to interpret this Simpson’s document? Jeffrey Archer, after all, was in Toronto on 18 November 1975 – he had given evidence for the prosecution in a big federal fraud trial the previous day. The federal detective in charge of the case was George Wool, and his deputy was Larry Park. Both men told us how, on the day after Archer gave evidence, they were contacted at lunchtime by a Toronto policeman who said he’d got a suspected shoplifter in the station. The prisoner claimed to be Jeffrey Archer, a former British MP, who was an important witness in a big fraud trial. Wool confirmed that a man called Archer was indeed his witness in the fraud case. Soon afterwards the prisoner was released without charge.

The Simpson’s document seemed to be proof that the arrested man was indeed Jeffrey Archer, the former Tory MP for Louth. Every single detail on it fitted Archer. But was the document genuine? It was a photocopy, and was not signed – by Jeffrey Archer or anyone else. The answer, we surmised, was yes. The document had been ‘liberated’ from Simpson’s by a former staff member hoping to sell it to the Star for their defence in the libel action. I even had the name and telephone number of the man who’d taken it.

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