Disgraced Aitken faces jail

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken could face a jail term after pleading guilty at the Old Bailey yesterday to perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Aitken, once tipped as a future Conservative leader and prime minister, became the first former cabinet minister this century to be convicted of serious crimes after admitting he lied under oath. He also admitted that he drew up a false statement for his daughter, Victoria, to sign to support his lies.

He will be sentenced in June. The maximum sentence for perverting the course of justice is life imprisonment and for perjury seven years.

The charges relate to the defamation action Aitken brought against The Guardian and Granada TV's World in Action programme over claims that a pounds 1,000 hotel bill for his stay at the Paris Ritz in September l993 was paid by a wealthy Saudi contact.

At the time, he vowed: "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 libel action collapsed and Aitken was charged with the serious criminal offences which led to yesterday's case.

Aitken, a former chief secretary to the Treasury, and minister for defence procurement, also pleaded not guilty yesterday to two further charges of perverting the course of justice and conspiring with his ex-wife, Lolicia, and another person to pervert the course of justice. He was given conditional bail.

Aitken also faces civil litigation as result of his failed libel action which has left him with pounds 2m in legal debts to The Guardian and Granada TV.