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Tuesday, June 29, 1999 Published at 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK

UK Politics

Aitken transferred to open jail

Jonathan Aitken arriving for sentencing at the Old Bailey

Former Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken has been transferred to an open prison where he will spend the remainder of his jail sentence.

The ex-Conservative MP received an 18-month term for perjury and perverting the course of justice at the Old Bailey.

He spent the past two weeks at Belmarsh top-security prison in London, but will now be moved to a Category D jail on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

[ image: Lady Aitken says her son is enjoying prison life]
Lady Aitken says her son is enjoying prison life
Despite the brevity of his stay, Aitken did manage to write a poem about his incarceration so far, entitled The Ballad of Belmarsh Gaol and published in The Spectator magazine.

His new home, the Standford Hill jail, holds about 400 inmates, most of whom are considered low risk or close to the end of their sentences.

Aitken, who has filed for bankruptcy as a result of the legal fees he owes from the libel cause that ultimately led to his imprisonment, will be able to work at the prison.

But the jobs on offer, including peeling vegetables and cleaning, pay only £5.50 to £12 a week, while the former millionaire politician owes £2.4m.

'Enjoying prison life'

The prison reform charity Nacro welcomed Aitken's move to an open prison, but said that too many other low-risk prisoners were left in unsuitable high-security jails.

Director of policy Paul Cavadino said: "Jonathan Aitken has not been found guilty of a violent crime, he poses no threat to the public, and is unlikely to abscond. The fact that he is a former MP is, and should be, irrelevant.

"Unfortunately, far too many other low-risk prisoners, who do not have the same public profile as Jonathan Aitken, end up serving their sentence in overcrowded high-security prisons".

Despite the length of the sentence given to Aitken, it has emerged he could be freed as early as January.

Newspaper reports have suggested he could be released early if he agrees to wear an electronic tag.

But in a letter to his mother, Aitken claimed to have encountered "masses of human warmth, good humour and friendliness" behind bars.

He added: "As these atmospherics suggest, I am starting to enjoy this extraordinary new chapter in my life."

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