Misunderstood, or just miscreant?; JONATHAN AITKEN

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JONATHAN AITKEN is a victim of jealousy. His enemies, especially liberal male journalists, could not abide the fact that he was richer, more successful and better looking than they were, writes Kim Sengupta. He is a giant brought down by the plotting of lesser men. Who says so? Well, his mother for a start, as well as a number of his more vocal friends like columnist Paul Johnson.

There is, of course, another school of thought that would argue that the formerly Right Honourable (he was forced to relinquish that title) Jonathan Aitken was the author of his own misfortune. That he is a perjurer, that he was prepared to ask his daughter to lie under oath on his behalf, that he was a friend of a repressive regime, and a man with seedy sexual tastes.

Whatever the reason, Mr Aitken's fall was spectacular. The one-time Tory golden boy not only had to endure humiliation and dishonour at the High Court when his libel case collapsed, but now faces having to pay a massive pounds 1.8m legal bill as the price of defeat. What must irk him is that until his opponents discovered devastating evidence to show he was lying over the paying of a hotel bill at the Paris Ritz, the case appeared to be going broadly in his favour.

After the fall Mr Aitken kept a low profile. He went off to America for a holiday with his son, started writing a novel and discovered God. Interestingly, his Saudi friends, whom he served diligently for many years, appear not to have rushed to his rescue in his hour of need. The former minister is having to sell one of his houses. He has taken up a consultancy with GEC-Marconi to sell communications equipment in the Middle East, and hopes other, similar jobs will follow.

Mr Aitken had a moderately successful political career. He had a very successful business career, thanks to his relationship with a number of Saudis, especially Prince Mohammed bin Fahd and his secretary Said Ayas. Sadly for him, those two are now involved in High Court litigation over allegations that Mr Ayas illegally diverted funds from accounts in England, France, Germany and Switzerland.

Mr Aitken has always had a problem with honesty, highlighted when he was working as a journalist. He passed documents relating to the Nigerian civil war to the Sunday Telegraph and Tory MP Hugh Fraser, breaking a promise he made to General Henry Alexander, the man who gave them to him. Having betrayed his benefactor, Aitken then falsely accused Mr Fraser of being responsible for the leak.

That Mr Aitken was the true source of the leak came out in court when he was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. What did not come out was that Mr Aitken was at the time having an affair with Mr Fraser's wife, Antonia. Apparently this " double shafting" as one of this friends called it, raised him in their estimation. He dated Carol Thatcher before abandoning her for other prey. Mrs Thatcher's daughter was hurt, and her angry mother made sure the young meteor was not promoted while she was Prime Minister.

Mr Aitken went on to have affairs with a sexologist called Christine Pickard, and a two-year liaison with a call girl called Paula Strudwick But he survived largely untouched by scandal. When he began his litigation he must have scented fresh triumphs. But his luck had run out.

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