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Breakfast with Frost
On Sunday, 20 July 2003, Breakfast with Frost featured an interview with Jonathan Aitken

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

Jonathan Aitken
Geoffrey Archer should retain his seat in the House of Lords

PETER SISSONS: Now the trial and jail sentence handed out to Jeffrey Archer, once deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, was one of the biggest political scandals of recent years, and the controversy continued while Lord Archer was inside, with claims and counterclaims that his prison conditions were unreasonably tough or inappropriately cushy.

Well today will apparently be his last day of detention at Her Majesty's pleasure, it's expected he'll be released tomorrow morning. The former Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken went through the same sequence of conviction, jail and return to civvy street in Britain, and he's here this morning. Welcome Jonathan. What's it like to step out of jail with that black bin-bag full of your belongings?

JONATHAN AITKEN: Well it's a moment, surprisingly, of a lot of conflicts. On the one hand, of course your heart leaps because you're re-entering the world of freedom - and Jeffrey will be very pleased to be doing that. On the other hand, that explosion of paparazzi flashbulbs and television cameras reminds one not just of the inevitable public interest but also that the adjustment period after a prison sentence is very difficult.

All ex-prisoners find that - I did, Jeffrey will too - and it's quite a tough call getting back into the world of freedom and remaining balanced and sensible and just coping with a new life and a new world.

PETER SISSONS: Jeffrey doesn't seem to have accepted his guilt, whereas you became full of remorse. Who has an easier re-entry to private life outside?

JONATHAN AITKEN: Jeffrey and I are two different people and we probably have different approaches to this matter. I personally felt it was much easier of course to really get rid of all the past baggage by completely accepting that what I had done was wrong.

My understanding is that Jeffrey still feels quite a deep sense of resentment about various matters, such as the length of the sentence and maybe the result of his trial - that's why he appealed, unsuccessfully, against both sentence and conviction.

PETER SISSONS: And there's some suggestion he might continue his fight to discredit enemies who he believes implicated him. What advice would you give him?

JONATHAN AITKEN: Well I'd be careful about that news story about, you know, a four million pound campaign of vendettas. I doubt that very much, Jeffrey's a big man. But I think my advice would be a piece of prison slang, which is don't be a double Richard. Now that translates rather amusingly, Richard III is rhyming slang for bird, bird is prison slang for length of sentence - what it means is don't do your sentence twice over.

And I did meet in my prison journey quite a lot of double Richards, people who were bitter against judges, juries, witnesses and so on, and they went on, as it were, serving their sentence twice. And I think Jeffrey is a big enough character, whatever feelings he may have and some of them may be justified about the sentence being too tough and so on, I think what he'll really want to do is get onto the front foot, get out, start a new life in a new spirit.

PETER SISSONS: Can you bounce back as if nothing has happened? He's been very good previously at reinventing himself but is this a taller order than most?

JONATHAN AITKEN: No one can or should deny history, so you can't just bounce back as if nothing had happened. Is a happy life, and a contented life and a fulfilled life, happy after a prison sentence? I certainly feel happy, fulfilled and doing all kinds of things which are very interesting and fulfilling for me. So the answer is yes you can bounce back in spirit and in heart, I don't think you can bounce back as though nothing has happened.

PETER SISSONS: Is the punishment all the greater because you are in public life?

JONATHAN AITKEN: Yes, inevitably. A high profile prisoner is somebody who's been given an exemplary sentence for that very reason and so it is tougher, the paparazzi follow you around, every move will be watched, you can't put a foot wrong without somebody speculating accurately or inaccurately about what you might be doing, what your motives might be.

Definitely it's tougher, but that's just the price of having once had the privilege of being in public life so I don't think everyone should complain about it. And also it gives you an opportunity, and I think Jeffrey will seize this, to say something about prison life, prison reform, changes needed in the system and to have that voice heard - so I think it cuts both ways.

PETER SISSONS: You really find out who your friends are when you come out. Did you find that there were people that you thought you knew, and that liked you, who suddenly didn't want to know you?

JONATHAN AITKEN: Yes, you definitely find out who your friends are. But on the whole the results of that sort of litmus test of friendship are much more positive than negative. I found many more people demonstrating their friendship in a very deep way and I think Jeffrey has too, from the number of people who have communicated with him or visited with him in prison.

But yes, some people who have been fair-weather friends, no doubt at those Krug and shepherd's pie parties, will steal away into the night. Other rather surprising people will come in there with a strength of friendship that perhaps Jeffrey hadn't expected.

PETER SISSONS: Do you think he should be kicked out of the House of Lords?

JONATHAN AITKEN: No I don't, I think that's vindictiveness. He has served his term in prison, he's paid his debt to society, no one ever said that the House of Lords is something you can kick people out of and indeed the House of Lords, after a gulp or two, may actually be much enriched by contributions from a prisoner who's really been through it. So I hope he'll stay in the House of Lords.


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