Tory Novelists: Aitken swaps the sword of truth for the pen of fiction

The disgraced former Cabinet minister, once tipped for Downing Street, has turned his hand to writing a novel. Kim Sengupta looks at how the former Tory golden boy is trying to reinvent himself after his spectacular fall.
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The Independent Online
It has been three-and-half months since Jonathan Aitken's humiliating High Court defeat and the public opprobrium which followed. Now back from his self-imposed exile in the United States, he is writing a novel. The plot is meant to be a closely guarded secret, but some friends claim it is about a public figure brought down by the envy and cynicism of lesser men. They also say the prose is angry and fast and it is bound to be a bestseller.

Mr Aitken may have stopped trying to wield the "sword of truth" and picked up the pen, but there is a cloud over his road to rehabilitation as successful author - the little matter of the Scotland Yard inquiry into claims that he perjured himself during his libel case against the Guardian and Granada TV's World in Action.

The Independent has been told that a preliminary report has already been sent by the police to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Detectives have been gathering evidence in Britain and abroad, and although Mr Aitken has not been interviewed under caution yet, he will be soon.

Sources close to the investigation point out that alleged perjury arising from civil litigation is a complex prosecution, and they say they want to cover all the documentation, and speak to necessary parties, before tackling Mr Aitken. A full report would then be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

There is also the question of the massive legal bills from his court case. He has paid his own bill of around pounds 800,000, but he has yet to pay the defendants' costs. He is believed to have told the Guardian he would make an offer in January.

The first chapters of his book are being typed up by his secretary, Lin, at the office adjacent to his home in Lord North Street, Westminster. The former chief secretary to the Treasury is dividing his time between London and the family home in Sandwich, Kent, which is owned by a Panamanian registered company. He apparently got most of his inspiration while walking alone in Scotland. He goes there every August for the grouse season. He does not shoot, but walks the glens.

Mr Aitken is an established author. His last book was a well-reviewed biography of Richard Nixon. It was published by Weidenfeld, but it is not handling the latest book.

According to friends, in the aftermath of his libel defeat, Mr Aitken wanted to write a factual book giving his version of the case. However, it was pointed out that by writing about it he risks the danger of entering into another libel action, this time as the defendant. A work of fiction was seen as the less risky option.

Following the collapse of the case, Mr Aitken's friends put forward a possible defence for his actions and in particular, the stay at Mohamed Al Fayed's Paris Ritz hotel where his version of events was discredited in court. Part of the defence was that the then arms procurement minister, who has had links with MI6 in the past, was on secret government business which he could not talk about in court. It was also claimed he could have been let down by his wife, Lolicia, over the payment of the hotel bill, which was proved to have been picked up by a Saudi prince.

Would all this be in the book? A friend of Mr Aitken said: "Look, I am sworn to secrecy on the plot. But if Jonathan was indeed writing something loosely based on the fall of a public figure then it would be the ideal format to put the record straight. He is of course an experienced writer, and I am told this is very good stuff. It's straight from the heart, and quite racy. After all, he has had quite a colourful personal life."

This "colourful life" has included affairs with Antonia Fraser, Soraya Khashoggi, and Carol Thatcher, as well as a liaison with a prostitute.

After his High Court defeat, Mr Aitken wrote to Major John Thomas, the chairman of his constituency party in Thanet South, Kent, to apologise to party members. The two men have kept in touch since. Major Thomas said yesterday: "I know that Jonathan has been writing away. I am sure the book will be very good ... Writing the book is a way back towards normal life for him. Whether he returns to public life or not would depend very much on what happens with the perjury case. If he stands trial and is acquitted then that's fine. If he is found guilty, of course..."

One person apparently not taking any interest in Mr Aitken's writing is his wife. The couple are said to have led separate lives for a long time, but after the court case she said in a highly publicised interview that she would stand by him. She is now reported to be living in Paris.

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