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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 November 2007, 10:38 GMT
New twist in Aitken's colourful career
Jonathan Aitken
Jonathan Aitken was jailed for 18 months for perjury

Almost eight years after walking out of prison with his belongings in a black bin liner, former Conservative Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken has been appointed to lead a review of prison policy for a conservative think tank.

Jailed in June 1999, he served almost seven months of his 18-month sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

It was a swift fall for a man educated at Eton and Oxford and once tipped to be the future leader of the Conservative Party.

A former chief secretary to the Treasury in John Major's Conservative government, Aitken fell from grace when it emerged he lied about a stay at the Ritz Hotel in Paris during libel proceedings against The Guardian newspaper and the World in Action television series.

The trial judge told Aitken, 65, he had spun a "web of deceit" from which he had not been prepared to escape by telling the truth.

Backbench career

Through his great uncle, the newspaper tycoon Lord Beaverbrook, he had started out as a journalist on the family-owned Evening Standard, and campaigned for the freedom of the press.

His parliamentary career began in 1974 when he was elected as the Conservative MP for Thanet East (later Thanet South).

But he earned the animosity of Margaret Thatcher when he ended a relationship with her daughter Carol.

Eighteen years later and with John Major in charge, Aitken was appointed as Minister of State for defence procurement in 1992 - a position he held until 1994.

He then succeeded Michael Portillo as chief secretary to the Treasury and finally attained the Cabinet seat he had long worked towards.

But the path to his downfall began shortly afterwards in April 1995 when he decided to sue for libel over the Guardian's allegations.

'Sword of truth'

Portraying himself as a crusader for truth, Aitken resigned from his Cabinet post to concentrate his energies on the case.

Jonathan Aitken
Aitken left prison in January 2000 with his belongings in a bin liner

Standing in Conservative Central Office, the former journalist famously vowed to clear his name and declared he would cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism with "the sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play".

Instead, his life was destroyed as he became bankrupt, divorced and imprisoned.

Of his experiences in prison, Aitken said he turned to God and on his release he studied theology.

Also inside he quickly became "the geezer with wonderful joined up writing", who wrote letters for his fellow convicts, impressing "the girls in Brixton" with his turn of phrase.

In 2004 his attempt to become an MP again was thwarted by then leader Michael Howard - although Aitken said it was blocked by "shabby tricks" from the Conservative Party officials.

Aitken had been keen to rejoin Westminster and said 200 members of the South Thanet Conservative Association had signed a petition to chose him as their candidate.

Parliament 'days are over'

Other than the legal barrier in his quest - the law bars anybody jailed for more than a year from being an MP - Aitken was also rejected by the party leadership.

At the time, Mr Howard said: "Jonathan Aitken has very many admirable qualities but I am afraid his days as a Conservative Member of Parliament are over."

Back then Aitken confirmed he would not seek to return to Parliament - but seems to have been invited back into the fold - albeit peripheral - by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and his independent think tank, the Centre for Social Justice.

He will chair a panel of criminal justice experts to formulate policy which could be used by the Conservative Party.

Background to Aitken's appointment

Tory Aitken to advise on prisons
11 Nov 07 |  UK Politics
Disgraced Tory Aitken backs UKIP
04 Jun 04 |  UK Politics
Howard blocks Aitken's comeback
06 Feb 04 |  UK Politics
Aitken bids for Commons return
06 Feb 04 |  UK Politics
Aitken: Pride was my downfall
17 Jul 02 |  Politics

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