Mrs Aitken battles to save house

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AS JONATHAN Aitken languished in jail yesterday, his ex-wife took on the battle to save their former marital home from bankruptcy trustees.

The pounds 1.75m house in Lord North Street, central London, has become the subject of a tug-of-war between the Aitken family and bankruptcy officials determined to recoup some of the pounds 1.5m he owes in legal fees.

Last night, it was revealed that Lolicia Aitken, who lives in Lausanne, Switzerland, had appointed British lawyers to fight any such claims.

Her 56-year-old husband had always claimed that the house, with other valuable assets, had been transferred to her during divorce proceedings last year.

Last month, the former minister - once worth more than pounds 3m - declared himself bankrupt, claiming a mere pounds 40,000 in assets and failing to pay the failed libel suit legal fees owed to The Guardian and Granada TV, initially assessed at pounds 2.4m.

It emerged later that the property, where Aitken liveduntil his incarceration, was still registered in his name. Bankruptcy trustees Baker Tilly are seeking a sale of the house on behalf of his creditors.

Nevertheless, the former cabinet minister and his family are still determined the Georgian home in Lord North Street will not fall into the hands of those who brought about his downfall.

Michael Coleman, senior partner at the London law firm Harkavys, said last night: "The position Mr Aitken has taken is that the house does not belong to him, it belongs to his ex-wife. Her father provided the entire purchase price for the house, and it has always been hers.

"I understand the bankruptcy trustees intend to dispute this position. As a result, Mrs Aitken has appointed English lawyers Norton Rose to deal with her interests in the house."

Mr Coleman argued that the issue was one of beneficial rather than legal ownership.

"The house is legally in his name, but beneficially it belongs to her because her father paid for it. Beneficial ownership is the one relevant to bankruptcy proceedings. We have no dispute with the bankruptcy trustees, the matter is between them and Mrs Aitken."

Aitken was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment by a judge at the Old Bailey on Tuesday after earlier pleading guilty to perjury and perverting the course of justice.