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Jonathan William Patrick Aitken (born 30 August 1942) is a former Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdommarker, and British government minister. He was convicted of perjury in 1999 and received an 18-month prison sentence, of which he served seven months.

Family

Aitken's parents were Sir William Aitken, a former Conservative MP, and Penelope Aitken, daughter of John Maffey, 1st Baron Rugby. Aitken is a great-nephew of newspaper magnate and war-time minister Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook (Lord Beaverbrook). His sister is the actress Maria Aitken and his nephew is the actor Jack Davenport. His god-children include James Abbott, the son of Labour left-winger Diane Abbott.

Early life

Aitken was born in Dublinmarker, Republic of Irelandmarker. His grandfather, Baron Rugby, was in 1939 the first British representative of the newly independent Irish state, at a time when Anglo-Irish relations were strained but improving. Aitken's baptism took place on 16 October 1942 at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublinmarker, an Anglican church, at which he was named "Jonathan William Patrick Aitken". The third name, "Patrick", was included at a late stage owing to the unexpected international importance of the occasion – one of the Irish papers reported "British envoy's grandson is a real Paddy". The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Éamon de Valera, who knew his grandparents, asked to attend the christening and his presence at the baptism symbolised improving Anglo-Irish relations. By attending a Protestant Cathedral, it also made a statement that the Irish Government was secular. Also attending was Princess Juliana (later to become Queen Juliana of the Netherlands) as his godmother.

Aitken contracted tuberculosis and when he was four years of age he was admitted to Cappagh Hospital, Dublin where he was an inpatient on a TB ward for more than three-and-a-half years, being cared for and educated by Catholic nuns. At that time, before the use of antibiotics for treating tuberculosis, his doctors were initially gloomy about his chances of survival or being able to walk again. His treatment included being strapped to a frame and a plaster cast to immobilise him, as well as participation in the routine of breathing fresh air outside on the terrace every morning. From time to time the death of one of the children was announced on the ward, but Aitken did not think that tuberculosis would be the cause of his own demise. He had a competitive spirit and wanted to recover before other children on the ward. His grandparents visited him regularly in hospital, and John Betjeman, who was on his grandfather's staff as a press secretary, also visited him. At Aitken's grandparents' request, Betjeman visited partly to check that he was not being indoctrinated to Catholicism. During this time his mother was kept very busy looking after his father in England, who was severely injured as an RAF pilot when his Spitfire was shot down in World War II, as well as visiting her family in Ireland and her son in hospital.

At Cappagh Hospital Aitken recovered and began to walk unsteadily. He was seven years of age when he was discharged from the hospital and was sad to leave the hospital staff, especially the key Nun involved in his care. After he was discharged he moved to Halesworthmarker, Suffolk, to live with his parents, and he learnt to walk properly again within a few months. His parents were often understandably concerned about his health and were worried about tuberculosis returning when he had a cold. Aitken's discharge from Cappagh Hospital, the ending of his grandfather's term of office in Ireland, and his father's discharge from hospital in England coincided at about the same time. His mother bought two houses near to each other in Halesworth not far from the sea. He spent a lot of time with his grandparents at the larger house, a double-fronted Georgian house known as "Quay House" with grounds that included a big garden containing a small nine-hole putting green, and a small cricket pitch on land on the other side of a river.

Aitken went to Eton Collegemarker and read law at Christ Church, Oxfordmarker. His career initially followed a similar path to the post-war career of his father, who became a journalist and then the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bury St Edmundsmarker.

Journalist

He served as a war correspondent during the 1960s in Vietnammarker and Biafra, and gained a reputation for risk-taking when he took LSD in 1966 as an experiment for an article in The London Evening Standard and had a bad trip "..this drug needs police, the Home Office and a dictator to stamp it out..."

He was also a journalist at Yorkshire Television from 1968 to 1970, presenting the regional news show Calendar.

First criminal trial

In 1970 Aitken was prosecuted at the Old Baileymarker for breaching section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 when he photocopied the Scott Report, a document about the British government's supply of arms to Nigeriamarker, and sent a copy to The Sunday Telegraph. He was acquitted, but his first attempt to be elected to Parliament failed as a result.

Backbench career

He was elected as MP for Thanet Eastmarker in the February 1974 General Election; from 1983 he sat for South Thanetmarker. A notably handsome man, he managed to offend Margaret Thatcher by ending a relationship with her daughter, Carol Thatcher, and suggesting that Thatcher "probably thinks Sinaimarker is the plural of Sinus" to an Egyptianmarker newspaper. He stayed on the backbenches throughout Thatcher's premiership and engaged in a number of activities, including participation in the re-launch of TV-am (where he was involved in an incident in which broadcaster Anna Ford threw her wine at him to express her outrage at both his behaviour and the unwelcome consequent transformation of the TV station). He was eventually offered membership of the Hurlingham Clubmarker when he became Minister of State for Defence Procurementmarker under John Major in 1992.

Cabinet membership

He became Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1994, a Cabinet position, but resigned in 1995, to defend himself against accusations that whilst serving as Minister of State for Defence Procurement he violated ministerial rules by allowing an Arab businessman to pay for his stay in the Paris Ritzmarker.

Libel action

On 10 April, 1995, The Guardian carried a front-page report on Aitken's dealings with leading Saudismarker. The story was the result of a long investigation carried out by journalists from the newspaper and from Granada TV's World In Action programme. By 5 o'clock that evening, Aitken had called a press conference at the Conservative Party offices in Smith Squaremarker, London, denouncing the reports and demanding that the World In Action programme, due to be screened three hours later, withdraw them.

During this press conference, Aitken made his notorious speech:

If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it. My fight begins today. Thank you and good afternoon.


The World In Action film, Jonathan of Arabia, went ahead and Aitken carried out his threat to sue. The action collapsed in June 1997 (a month after he had lost his seat in the 1997 General Election) when the Guardian and Granada produced, via their counsel George Carman QC, evidence countering his claim that his wife, Lolicia Aitken, paid for the hotel stay. The evidence consisted of airline vouchers and other documents showing that his wife had, in fact, been in Switzerland at the time when she had allegedly been at the Ritz in Paris. The joint Guardian/Granada investigation indicated an arms deal scam involving Aitken's friend and business partner, the Lebanesemarker businessman Mohammed Said Ayas, a close associate of Prince Mohammed of Saudi Arabia. It was alleged that Aitken had been prepared to have his teenage daughter Victoria lie under oath to support his version of events had the case continued.

A few days after the libel case collapsed, World In Action broadcast a special edition, which echoed Aitken's "sword of truth" speech. It was entitled The Dagger of Deceit.

During this time Aitken was chairman of the right wing think tank Le Cercle, which gained exposure due to the scandal.

Perjury conviction and imprisonment

Aitken was charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice, and in 1999 was jailed for 18 months, of which he served seven. During the preceding libel trial, his wife Lolicia, who later left him, was called as a witness to sign a supportive affidavit to the effect that she had paid his Paris hotel bill, but did not appear. In the end, with the case already in court, investigative work by Guardian reporters into Swiss hotel and British Airways records showed that neither his daughter nor his wife had been in Paris at the time in question.

Aitken was unable to cover the legal costs of his libel trial and was declared bankrupt. As part of the bankruptcy, his trustees settled legal actions against the magazine Private Eyemarker, over the various claims it had made that Aitken was a "serial liar". He also became one of the few people to resign from the Privy Council (another such person was John Stonehouse).

Aitken's wife and three daughters - Victoria and Alexandra Aitken and Petrina Khashoggi - turned up to support him when he was sentenced. Petrina was a previously unacknowledged daughter by Soraya Khashoggi, ex-wife of arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. On DNA testing at the age of 18, she had turned out to be Aitken's, though Khashoggi had previously accepted her as his own.

In 1993 Aitken published a favourable biography, Nixon: A Life, of former US President Richard Nixon. Although his was not an authorised biography, Aitken was one of the few biographers from whom Nixon accepted questions and to whom he granted interviews.

Prison stay and theology study

During his stay in prison, Aitken rediscovered the Bible, learned Greek, and became a student of Christian theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxfordmarker. This part of his life is covered in two autobiographical works called Pride and Perjury and Porridge and Passion. He married his second wife, Elizabeth Harris, in June 2003.

He gave a talk called "I Want to Break Free" at Holy Trinity, Bromptonmarker in January 2006 where Nicky Gumbel described him as a "great friend". On Sunday 13 July 2008 he gave a sermon at Kings Church International entitled 'Finding God in the Depths' where the Senior Pastor Wes Richards introduced his coming as a great privilege and described Aitken as a friend to both himself and the church.

Have I Got News for You

After serving his prison sentence, Aitken appeared on an episode of the BBC satirical quiz show Have I Got News for You. During this appearance, Ian Hislop produced a letter confirming Aitken's bankruptcy and announced that Aitken still owed Hislop's magazine (Private Eyemarker) £13,702, several years after the bankruptcy. Aitken apologised for this.

Political comebacks

In early 2004, some constituency party members in Aitken's former seat of South Thanetmarker proposed that he should return as Conservative candidate for the seat. This was vetoed by Conservative Party leader Michael Howard

Aitken later confirmed that he would not attempt a return to Parliamentmarker, saying that "the leader has spoken. I accept his judgement with good grace." He denied rumours he was to stand as an independent candidate insisting that he was not a "spoiler".

Aitken later declared his support for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) a week before the party's strong performance in the 2004 European elections. On 2 October, 2004, Aitken attended the (UKIP) conference and re-iterated his support for the party.

Ashley Merry, Veritas Party defence spokesman, is public relations advisor to Aitken.

In November 2007, with the approval of senior members of the Shadow Cabinet, he took charge of a task force on prison reform within Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice to help formulate Conservative policy. Aitken stated this was not part of a political comeback. Conservative spokesmen pointed out that the task force is independent of the party, even though the organisation is run by Iain Duncan Smith, who is a former Tory leader. The report Locked Up Potential: A Strategy to Reform our Prisons and Rehabilitate our Prisoners was published in March 2009

In April 2008, The Observer's diary reported that Aitken is writing a biography of the President of Kazakhstanmarker, Nursultan Nazarbayev, with the president's cooperation.

External links



References

  1. http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/R/real_lives/aitken.html
  2. BBC News
  3. For an account of the trial, see Aitken, J., Officially Secret, 1971, London, Weidenfield and Nicholson
  4. The Guardian
  5. The Guardian
  6. http://www.caat.org.uk/publications/countries/saudi-arabia.php
  7. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/1999/jun/08/uk
  8. http://www.htb.org.uk/audio/i-want-break-free-jonathan-aitken
  9. http://www.kcionline.org/
  10. BBC News
  11. BBC News
  12. Observer
  13. Press release, Full report
  14. Guardian 25 March 2009 -Alan Travis "Scrap Titan jail plans, urges Jonathan Aitken" and Guardian 25 March 2009 "Prisoners of hope: A shared experience of life behind bars offers a rare insight as Erwin James meets Jonathan Aitken to discuss the former Tory minister's radical ideas for penal reform.
  15. The Observer



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