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1999: Liar Aitken jailed for 18 months

VIDEO : Aitken is sentenced at the Old Bailey

Disgraced ex-cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken has been jailed for 18 months after he admitted lying during a failed libel action.

The former Conservative MP admitted both charges earlier in the year, following the collapse of his libel case against The Guardian newspaper and Granada TV.

Passing sentence at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Scott Baker told Aitken he had woven a "web of deceit" and committed an inexcusable breach of trust.

From the dock, the former minister blew a kiss to his daughters, who started to cry as the verdict was announced.

He was later taken away to begin his sentence at Belmarsh jail near Woolwich, south London. His solicitor said he would not be appealing against the sentence.

Declared bankrupt

Aitken dramatically resigned from his post as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1995, after The Guardian and Granada TV's World in Action programme reported that a Saudi businessman had paid for a stay at the Paris Ritz hotel - in breach of ministerial rules.

The MP launched his ill-fated libel action, announcing he had quit to fight what he said was "the cancer of bent and twisted journalism".

The trial also addressed World in Action allegations that Aitken procured prostitutes for his Arab business clients on their visits to the UK, and that he was aware, as a director of BMARC, that the company had sold guns to Iran in contradiction of a United Nations embargo.

But it was his insistence that his wife Lolicia had settled the Ritz bill which ultimately brought his downfall, when documents were presented proving she had been in Switzerland, not Paris, over the entire weekend in question.

Charges of perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice followed, and in March, unable to pay his legal debts, he had himself declared bankrupt.

In Context
Jonathan Aitken served almost seven months of his 18-month sentence, and following his release began a theology course at Oxford University.

His ill-judged decision to launch a libel action in order to defend his lies resulted in personal disaster.

Aitken said his "whole life was shattered" within 24 hours of the collapse of the trial.

But having pleaded guilty to perjury and conspiring to pervert the course of justice, he appeared to feel remorse for his actions.

"I have learned my lessons. I hope I never tell any lies again. Sometimes you become a prisoner of your own lie. Ultimately I have no excuses," he said.

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