Aitken Sentenced: The liar impaled on his own sword of justice

AS JONATHAN Aitken was taken down to the cells yesterday he blew a kiss to his family. It was the first and only sign of emotion from a man once tipped to be Prime Minister. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The 56-year-old former cabinet minister, so often characterised by his arrogance, was not going to show the world any fear. As he stood in the dock at the Old Bailey his eyes remained dipped in concentration, never subservience - bent, but not bowed.

His final day in court was as exotic and spectacular as his fall from grace. The mother of his illegitimate daughter, Soraya Khashoggi, reported for a national newspaper from the jostling press gallery, his key character witness was a former defence secretary, and the court heard tales of Middle Eastern royals, billion-dollar arms contracts and the workings within the corridors of power.

The court was packed to the rafters of the public gallery, where the legal campaigner Lord Longford sat like an ageing sage. The defendant's family, meanwhile, entered in regal procession: three exquisite daughters, a titled mother, a handsome young son and a famous actress sister.

Far from the usual rabble-rousing crowds of a criminal court, his supporters were grey-haired men sporting expensive suits and an air of authority.

The scene at court one must have been reminiscent of the day Oscar Wilde - a man with whom Aitken's own barrister drew comparisons - was taken away to Reading jail.

But yesterday it was Jonathan Aitken's turn to face sentence, having admitted to perjury and perverting the course of justice. To a hushed court, counsel for the prosecution, David Waters, spelt out the web of intrigue that had led to his downfall.

On that fateful weekend in September 1993, Aitken - then defence procurement minister - had flown to Paris and stayed at the Ritz with his wife, while meeting members of the Saudi royal family. The bill was paid on behalf of Said Ayas, an old business friend, godfather to his daughters and close friend of Prince Mohammed, son of the Saudi king. It was to be that hotel bill which led to his downfall. When approached by The Guardian newspaper, Aitken flatly denied a business meeting or that his bill had been picked up by a potential arms customer.

Then the lies really began; that his wife had paid the bill; that the trip had been to take his daughter to school in Switzerland ... and as each untruth became flawed, the former cabinet minister compounded it with further deceit. The court heard that when "cornered" by newspapers and Granada TV's World in Action, Mr Aitken had made his most brazen move of all, issuing libel writs with the declaration: "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."

The court listened intently as Mr Waters described how as his case began to collapse Aitken made his lowest move: persuading his 16-year-old daughter to sign a false statement.

The judge, Mr Justice Scott Baker, interjected sternly: "It is a very grave feature of this case that he got his daughter involved in this."

Aitken gave no response.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former defence secretary, was one of the few former ministers who publicly testified to Aitken's good character, lauding the man who had so successfully acted as his junior minister for procurement. Aitken, he said, had secured billions of dollars of sales for Britain and safeguarded thousands of jobs.

His voice booming out over the court, Sir Malcolm spoke of a "polite and courteous" minister who had deftly dealt with chiefs of staff as well as parliamentary colleagues. When asked whether he believed Aitken had any ulterior motive for his actions, he said: "I have absolutely no reason to believe that. He was a very hardworking minister. He was carrying out this responsibility in a hugely competent way."

Sir John Nutting QC, for the defence, said Aitken's close friendship with Prince Mohammed had provided a "valuable link" between the governments of Britain and Saudi Arabia, and it was against this background that he wanted the judge to view the events at the Ritz hotel.

Aitken's bill at the Ritz was paid because of the "hospitality not untypical of Arabs", Sir John said. The bill was only a small sum to the Arabs and to Aitken at that time.

He added: "When later he realised the trap in which he had caused himself to fall, he began to tell a series of lies and half-truths which nearly six years later have brought him before your Lordship and into the dock of the Old Bailey."

He was in a dilemma when later more allegations were made against him - he felt he had to clear his name with the libel action. Sir John said Aitken lied about the stay at the Ritz to put journalists off the "false scent" of other serious allegations that had been made against him.

But once he had started lying, he was forced to continue his deceit, culminating in lies to the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister at the time.

Sir John said: "In a real and fundamental sense, this defendant had brought about his real destruction.

"Not since the days of Oscar Wilde has a public figure who told lies in a libel case suffered such humiliation and public vilification and personal vindictiveness at the hands of some member of the press.

"The fall from grace has been complete, his marriage has broken down, he has lost his home, he is one of only three people this century forced to resign from the Privy Council, he is bankrupt and his health has suffered.

"His public humiliation has been absolute. These are real and considerable punishments."

The public gallery for number one court had been full an hour before the case was due to start. Among the first to arrive was Lord Longford, who has known Aitken for 40 years. Lord Longford said he had come because he had also known Aitken's grandfather. He said: "He would be the first minister to go to prison, but he is one of the finest men of his generation. If people say that he has made a mistake I say what Christ said to the Pharisees who tried to stone an adulteress. `Let he who had not sinned cast the first stone.' "

He added: "If he asks me to visit him in prison, then of course I will visit him, but I do not want to impose myself."

Outside, Aitken still had some support from former Thanet constituents. Roz Parker, 57, a therapist, said Aitken had been very kind to her and her son when he was suffering from schizophrenia. Mrs Parker said: "He wrote lots of kind letters to my son and helped to save Thanet Hospital."

Suggested Topics
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster