Aitken falls on `sword of truth'

 

THE REPUTATION of the former Conservative cabinet minister, Mr Jonathan Aitken, is in tatters after his libel action against the Guardian newspaper and Granada TV ended dramatically at the High Court in London yesterday.

As he faces the prospect of paying legal costs of up to £2 million, it emerged last night that Mr Aitken (54) could be charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice. Documents submitted to the court on Thursday show that Mrs Lolicia Aitken was in Geneva at the time of a brief stay by him at the Paris Ritz in 1993, despite her husband's repeated testimony under oath that she had been with him and had paid the hotel bill.

The Guardian confirmed that it had written two letters, one to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ms Barbara Mills, and a second to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, urging them to bring criminal proceedings against Mr Aitken.

At the end of the 13-day court battle, the Guardian's editor, Mr Alan Rusbridger, emerged from the High Court clearly triumphant. He said the former minister had "impaled himself on the `simple sword of truth'. For three years he has lied to newspapers, lied to the Cabinet Secretary, lied to the Prime Minister and lied to his colleagues. Now he has made his fatal mistake by lying on oath to the High Court."

Mr Rusbridger was referring to the speech Mr Aitken made in 1995 when, starting his libel action, he said that the "simple sword of truth" would prove the rightness of his cause.

Once tipped as a future leader of the Tories, Mr Aitken resigned from the party at the time. He staked his political reputation on fighting allegations made by the Guardian and Granada TV that he breached ministerial guidelines when a Saudi Arabian business associate paid his Ritz bill.

The Guardian also accused Mr Aitken, then Minister for Defence Procurement, of arranging prostitutes for Arab businessmen. Granada's World in Action programme repeated the accusation in a television documentary called Jonathan of Arabia. This claimed that he was financially dependent on powerful Arab businessmen.