Aitken's walkabout turns into a Whitehall farce

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The Independent Online
The collapse of Jonathan Aitken's High Court libel case was a personal tragedy. Yesterday, his first public appearance since his court battle, rapidly descended into high farce.

The disgraced former Cabinet minister announced that he was going to break cover after returning to the country from his brief self-imposed exile, following his humiliation in the defamation action. Pointedly, he had chosen to appear across the road from the House of Commons, the place where he had misled fellow MPs over his now notorious stay at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1993.

In a statement, the former chief secretary to the Treasury and defence procurement minister had said he would pose for pictures but would not make any comments about the court case or its aftermath. He faces a Scotland Yard investigation into allegations of perjury and attempts to pervert the course of justice.

Accompanied by his solicitor, Richard Sykes, and his driver, Peter Beaumont, Mr Aitken started on a stately walk to College Green wearing a dark suit, a tan, and a fixed smile which rapidly turned into a grimace as photographers descended on him en masse. For a while he was trapped between a television van and a high wall.

Mr Aitken was not going to play any longer. He said: "I don't think we are going to get to College Green. If this is the way you are going to behave I am going home."

Except it was not that easy. The 100-yard journey back to his house in Lord North Street was a painfully slow and unedifying circus of jostling and screaming photographers and cameramen, with a few fists flying, and among them a resolutely silent Mr Aitken.

These are the questions the 54-year-old former MP refused to answer: "Did you perjure yourself in the High Court?"; "Were you prepared to let your wife and daughter perjure themselves?"; "When are you going to see the police?"; "Do you think you might end up in prison?"; "Are you a liar."

The only time he spoke was when asked what exactly he hoped to achieve by the walkabout, which was bound to end in trouble. "I was trying to be helpful," he said. The laywer Sykes' response to the same question was: "It's fun."