Baroness Nicholson and the Simple Truth

In 2001 Baroness (formerly Emma) Nicholson MEP appeared on Newsnight to accuse Lord Archer, who had recently been convicted of perjury, of trousering millions of pounds of cash raised by the Simple Truth campaign for the Kurds. Archer, together will Alan Yentob, Sir Paul Fox, and other worthies had organised a fundraising concert which was the centrepiece of the campaign on behalf of the Red Cross.

The fact that Nicholson made her allegations on Newsnight and in a letter to the police is interesting. If her main interest had been to find out what had happened to the "missing" millions she would first have called the Red Cross and asked them. She would soon have found out that no money was actually missing. She had confused two figures - the money raised by the concert and the larger sum raised by the campaign overall. So let us assume she was being a politician. Through partisan motives (a former Conservative, Nicholson had defected to the Liberal Democrats, Archer remained a Conservative) or personal malice she had opted to pursue her campaign through the media rather than the Red Cross.

She is entitled to behave politically, of course. What she is not entitled to do is deliberately waste police time. That there was nothing at all to her complaint is attested not merely by the Red Cross but also by the police and KPMG, who were hired to conduct a special audit to repudiate her damaging attack on the charity's good name. But the key question is not whether her charges were false, but whether she knew them to be false at the time.

I suspect that she did. If she had thought there was substance to her charges she would have spoken to the Red Cross to get the facts before appearing on Newsnight. That she did not do so implies she at least strongly suspected that the facts would not be friendly to her campaign.

Wasting police time is a criminal offence. The investigation was headed by a Detective Chief Inspector. Archer was recategorised to a higher security category by the prison service while the investigation proceeded. The taxpayers' bore a considerable cost for both the investigation, and the needless extra security for Archer. The Red Cross forked out for KPMG's fees, and must have suffered from diminished donations from those who believe "there's no smoke without fire". No money was missing from their accounts due to Archer, but some certainly was due to Nicholson.

Yet, four years on, I am not aware that Nicholson has apologised; offered to reimburse the Red Cross for the costs she imposed on it; or been investigated for the criminal offence of wasting police time.

Perhaps it is a case of one law for Conservative politicians and another for Liberal Democrats.

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