Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Born in Dublin to William Aitken (himself a Conservative MP) and Penelope Aitken, daughter of John Maffey, 1st Baron Rugby , he attended Eton College and read law at Christ Church, Oxford. He served as a war correspondent during the 1960s in Vietnam and Biafra.
He was returned as MP for Thanet East in the 1974 General Election. He managed to offend Margaret Thatcher by ending a relationship with her daughter, Carol Thatcher, and suggesting that Thatcher "probably thinks Sinai is the plural of Sinus" to an Egyptian newspaper. He stayed on the backbenches throughout Thatcher's reign, eventually becoming Minister of State for Defence Procurement under John Major in 1992.
He became Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1994, a Cabinet position, but resigned in 1995, to defend himself against accusations that whilst Minister of Defence Procurement he violated ministerial rules by allowing an Arab businessman to pay for his stay in the Ritz Hotel Paris .
His libel action against The Guardian newspaper and Granada Television, in which he famously claimed he would rely on "the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of fair play", collapsed in June 1997 (a month after he had lost his seat in the 1997 General Election) when the Guardian produced evidence that his claim that his wife, Lolicia Aitken , paid for the stay could not possibly be true. This evidence was the bill from the Ritz Hotel in Paris itself, marked 'debiteur M. Ayas', and shown to Peter Preston, editor of The Guardian, by the hotel owner Mohamed Al-Fayed in the autumn of 1993. That began the newspaper's investigation which revealed the arms deal scam involving Aitken's friend and business partner Said Ayas , a close associate of Prince Mohammed of Saudi Arabia .
The libel trial collapsed after the Guardian discovered documents which specificly refuted Aitkins alibi. It was alleged that Aitken had been prepared to have his teenage daughter Victoria lie under oath to support his alibi had the case continued. Aitken was then charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice, and in 1999 was jailed for 18 months (of which he served 7 months). He was unable to cover legal costs and was declared bankrupt. As part of the bankruptcy his trustees settled legal actions against the magazine Private Eye over the various claims it had made that Aitken was a serial liar. He also became one of the few people to resign from the Privy Council.
In 2004 his proposed return to British politics, in which he was supported by his former constituents, was vetoed by Conservative party leader Michael Howard. Aitken later confirmed that he would not attempt a return to Parliament. He is quoted as saying: "The leader has spoken. I accept his judgement with good grace". On 2 October, he attended the UKIP conference where he announced his support for the party.
His sister is the actress, Maria Aitken .
- Guardian Special Report - The Aitken Affair
- The Outrageous Cant of Jonathan Aitken and His Friends. By the Man Who Started the Story summary by Peter Preston from The Guardian
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