Aitken charged with perverting justice

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The Independent Online
JONATHAN AITKEN, the former cabinet minister, who was once tipped as a future leader of the Conservative Party, appeared in court yesterday charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The one-time chief secretary to the Treasury stood in the dock at Bow Street magistrates' court, London, alongside Said Mohammed Ayas, a Saudi businessman, who faces charges of perverting the course of justice. All the alleged offences relate to Mr Aitken's failed libel action against The Guardian and Granada Television last year.

Mr Aitken's estranged wife, Lolicia, is named in the indictment, but she has not been arrested or charged. The couple separated at the time of the collapsed libel trial and she is believed to be living on the Continent.

Mr Aitken arrived in court accompanied by his 18-year-old daughter Alexandra. He and Mr Ayas, both in blue suits, were required to stand in the dock while the charges were read out. They spoke only to confirm their names, and were not required to enter a plea.

The two defendants face a joint charge: that they conspired to pervert the course of justice, with Lolicia Aitken, between 9 April 1995 and 21 June 1997. It is alleged that they signed witness statements and allowed them to be presented at the High Court libel action knowing them to be false.

The alleged falsehood was that Mrs Aitken and the couple's daughter Victoria had been in Paris, staying at a flat belonging to Mr Ayas's daughter, before travelling to Geneva on 17 September 1993. Another was that on 19 September, Mrs Aitken paid towards a hotel bill for her husband at the Paris Ritz.

Mr Ayas alone is charged with acts intending to pervert the course of justice between 9 April 1995 and 21 June 1997 by signing an allegedly false witness statement that on 19 September he saw Mrs Aitken in the Ritz and she told him she had paid Mr Aitken's bill.

Mr Aitken faces three other charges of intending to pervert the course of justice between 9 April 1995 and 4 June 1997 by signing an allegedly false witness statement for the High Court claiming that Mrs Aitken had been in Paris on 19 September 1993 and had paid 4,275 French francs in respect of his Paris bill.

The next charge against Mr Aitken is one of perverting the course of justice between 13 and 18 June 1997 by signing an allegedly false witness statement for the High Court claiming that Mrs Aitken and Victoria had travelled by train and ferry to Paris on 16 September 1993 and stayed overnight at Mr Ayas's daughter's flat and that Victoria, who is Alexandra's twin, spoke by telephone to her grandmother.

The final charge against Mr Aitken is one of perjury. It is alleged that between 4 and 14 June 1997, after being sworn as a witness in the High Court, he gave false testimony that on 19 September 1993 Mrs Aitken was in Paris and paid the 4,257 French francs towards the Ritz bill.

Graham Parkinson, the stipendiary magistrate, adjourned the case until 19 October, when, he said, he hoped committal proceedings could start.

The two men were released on conditional bail.

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