Jonathan Aitken

Jonathan Aitken

Infobox Politician

honorific-prefix =
name = Jonathan Aitken
honorific-suffix =
office = Chief Secretary to the Treasury
term_start = 20 July 1994
term_end = 5 July 1995
primeminister = John Major
predecessor = Michael Portillo
successor = William Waldegrave
constituency_MP2 = Thanet South
(Thanet East 1974–1983)
parliament2 =
majority2 =
predecessor2 = new constituency
successor2 = Stephen Ladyman
term_start2 = 28 February 1974
term_end2 = 1 May 1997
birth_date = Birth date and age|1942|08|30|df=yes
birth_place = Dublin, Ireland
death_date =
death_place =
nationality =
spouse =
party = Conservative
relations =
children =
residence =
alma_mater = Eton College
Christ Church, Oxford
occupation =
profession = Journalist
religion =

website =
footnotes =

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

Personal details

He was born in Dublin to Sir William Aitken (himself a Conservative MP) and Penelope Aitken, daughter of John Maffey, 1st Baron Rugby. He is a great-nephew of newspaper magnate and war-time minister Lord Beaverbrook. He attended Eton College and read law at Christ Church, Oxford. He served as a war correspondent during the 1960s in Vietnam and Biafra, and has written a biography of Richard Nixon. He was also a journalist at Yorkshire Television from 1968 to 1970, presenting the regional news show Calendar.

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.

First criminal trial

In 1971 Aitken was prosecuted at the Old Bailey for breaching the Official Secrets Act when he photocopied the Scott Report, a document about the British government's supply of arms to Nigeria, and sent a copy to the "Sunday Telegraph". He was acquitted, but his first attempt to be elected to Parliament failed as a result. [ [ BBC News] ]

Backbench career

He was elected as MP for Thanet East in the 1974 General Election; from 1983 he sat for South Thanet. 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 Sinai is the plural of Sinus" to an Egyptian 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 station). He was eventually offered membership of the Hurlingham Club when he became Minister of State for Defence Procurement 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 Ritz.

Libel action

On 10 April 1995, "The Guardian" carried a front-page report on Aitken's dealings with leading Saudis. 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 Square, 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." [" [,,112789,00.html The Guardian] "]

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 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 Lebanese 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. [" [ The Guardian] "]

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".

Perjury conviction and subsequent 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 Eye", 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

During his stay in prison, Aitken claimed to have rediscovered the Bible, learned Greek, and became a student of Christian theology at Oxford University. 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 Brompton in January 2006 where Nicky Gumbel described him as a "great friend" [] .

"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 owed Hislop's magazine ("Private Eye") £13,702.

Political comebacks

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

Aitken later confirmed that he would not attempt a return to Parliament, 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) [ [ BBC News] ] 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 [" [,,2209333,00.html Observer] "] . 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.

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

In popular culture

Aitken was portrayed by Jeremy Clyde in the 2004 BBC production of "The Alan Clark Diaries".

External links and references

* [ "Guardian" Special Report – The Aitken Affair]
** [,2763,209331,00.html "The Outrageous Cant of Jonathan Aitken and His Friends. By the Man Who Started the Story"] summary by Peter Preston from "The Guardian"
* [ "BBC News" Jonathan Aitken - a 'swashbuckling' life] profile, 7 December 1998
* [ Interview with Jonathan at]
* [ "An evening with Jonathan Aitken"] – Aitken tells the story of his perjury and walk of faith to an audience at St George's Church in Leeds, UK. The talk is available as a podcast. Follow the listen again links to iTunes or search any podcast directory for St George's Church.
* Aitken, Jonathan, "Pride and Perjury", HarperCollins, London, 2000, ISBN 0-00-274075-3
* Luke Harding, David Leigh and David Pallister (1997), The Liar: The Fall of Jonathan Aitken, London: Penguin Books Ltd.
* Aitken, Jonathan, Prayers for people under pressure. 2008, Crossway Books. ISBN 978-1-4335-0131-9

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