Jonathan Aitken

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Jonathan Aitken
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
In office
20 July 1994 – 5 July 1995
Prime MinisterJohn Major
Preceded byMichael Portillo
Succeeded byWilliam Waldegrave
Minister for Defence Procurement
In office
14 April 1992 – 20 July 1994
Prime MinisterJohn Major
Preceded byAlan Clark
Succeeded byRoger Freeman
Member of Parliament
for South Thanet
In office
9 June 1983 – 8 April 1997
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byStephen Ladyman
Member of Parliament
for Thanet East
In office
28 February 1974 – 13 May 1983
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Born (1942-08-30) 30 August 1942 (age 78)
Dublin, Ireland
Political partyConservative (1966–2004)
UKIP (2004–present)
Lolicia Olivera Azucki
(m. 1979; div. 1998)

Elizabeth Rees-Williams
(m. 2003)
Children4, including Alexandra
ParentsSir William Aitken
Penelope, Lady Aitken
EducationEton College
Alma materChrist Church, Oxford
Wycliffe Hall, Oxford
WebsiteOfficial website

Jonathan William Patrick Aitken (born 30 August 1942) is an Irish-born British former Conservative Party Member of Parliament (MP) in the United Kingdom (1974-1997), former Cabinet minister and Church of England parish priest. He was convicted of perjury in 1999 and received an 18-month prison sentence, of which he served seven months. Aitken was a member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council. After becoming a Christian, he later became the president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide and was ordained in the Church of England.


Aitken's parents were Sir William Traven Aitken, KBE, a former Conservative MP, and The Honourable Penelope, Lady Aitken, MBE, JP, daughter of The 1st Baron Rugby.[1][2] Aitken is a great-nephew of the newspaper magnate and war-time minister, The 1st Baron Beaverbrook. His sister is the actress Maria Aitken and his nephew is the actor Jack Davenport. He is godfather to James Abbott, the son of Labour left-winger Diane Abbott.[3]

In 1979, Aitken married Lolicia Olivera Azucki, a daughter of O. Azucki of Zurich, Switzerland; they divorced in 1998.[2] With his first wife, he had twin daughters and one son,[2] Alexandra and Victoria Aitken,[4] and William Aitken respectively.[5][6] In 1999, DNA testing confirmed that Petrina Khashoggi, putative daughter of billionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, was Aitken's biological child, the result of an affair with Khashoggi's wife Soraya (née Sandra Daly).[2][4] He married his second wife, The Hon. Elizabeth Harris, daughter of The 1st Baron Ogmore, TD, PC, in June 2003.[2]

The paternity of Aitken himself has similarly been under question. In December 2008, Dutch historian Cees Fasseur claimed that Aitken was the result of a wartime affair between Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and Penelope Aitken.[7]

Early life[edit]

Aitken was born in Dublin, Ireland. His grandfather, Sir John Maffey (who was created The 1st Baron Rugby in February 1947), was the first official British representative to the newly independent Irish state, being appointed in October 1939, at a time when Anglo-Irish relations were strained but improving. Maffey's official title was 'United Kingdom Representative to Éire'. Aitken's baptism took place on 16 October 1942 at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, an Anglican church, at which he was named "Jonathan William Patrick Aitken". The third name, "Patrick", was included at a late stage owing to the unexpected international importance of the occasion –- one of the Irish papers reported "British envoy's grandson is a real Paddy". The Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, who knew his grandparents, asked to attend the christening and his presence at the baptism was symbolic of improving Anglo-Irish relations. Also attending was Princess Juliana (later to become Queen Juliana of the Netherlands) as his godmother.[8]

Aitken contracted tuberculosis, and at four years of age was admitted to Cappagh Hospital, Dublin, where he was an inpatient on a TB ward for more than three years, being cared for and educated by Catholic nuns. His father was severely injured as an RAF pilot when his Spitfire was shot down during the Second World War.[8]

Aitken recovered and was discharged from the hospital aged seven. He lived with his parents at Halesworth, Suffolk, and learnt to walk properly again within a few months.[8]

Aitken attended Eton College and read law at Christ Church, Oxford.[9] His career initially followed a similar path to the post-war career of his father, who became a journalist and then the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bury St Edmunds.[8]


He served as a war correspondent during the 1960s in Vietnam and Biafra, and gained a reputation for risk-taking when he took LSD in 1966 as an experiment for an article in the London Evening Standard and had a bad trip: "this drug needs police, the Home Office and a dictator to stamp it out".[9][10]

He was also a journalist at Yorkshire Television from 1968 to 1970, presenting the regional news show Calendar. Aitken was the first person to be seen on screen from Yorkshire Television when it began broadcasting.[11]

In 1970, Aitken was acquitted at the Old Bailey for breaching section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, when he photocopied a report about the British government's supply of arms to Nigeria, and sent a copy to The Sunday Telegraph and to Hugh Fraser, a pro-Biafran (Nigerian Civil War) Tory MP. As a result of the case he was dropped as the Conservative candidate for the Thirsk and Malton parliamentary constituency.[12][13]

Aitken's favourable biography, Nixon: A Life, of former US President Richard Nixon, was published in 1993. Although his was not an authorised biography, Aitken was one of the few biographers from whom Nixon accepted questions and to whom he granted interviews.

Parliamentary career[edit]

Defeated at Meriden in the West Midlands in 1966, he was elected as MP for Thanet East in the February 1974 general election; from 1983 he sat for South Thanet. He managed to offend PM Margaret Thatcher by ending a relationship with her daughter, Carol Thatcher, and suggesting that Thatcher "probably thinks Sinai is the plural of Sinus" to an Egyptian newspaper. He stayed on the backbenches throughout Thatcher's premiership, as well as participating in the re-launch of TV-AM, when broadcaster Anna Ford threw her wine at him to express her outrage at both his behaviour and the unwelcome consequent transformation of the TV station.

Opens Hollis affair[edit]

Aitken wrote a highly confidential letter to Thatcher in early 1980, dealing with allegations that the former Director-General of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, had been a double agent also working for the Soviet Union. This information had come to Aitken from retired CIA spymaster James Angleton. Espionage historian Chapman Pincher obtained a copy of the letter, and used former MI5 officers Peter Wright and Arthur Martin as his main additional secret sources, to write the sensational book Their Trade is Treachery in 1981. This matter raged full of controversy throughout the 1980s, and led to Wright eventually publishing his own book Spycatcher in 1987, despite the government's prolonged Australian court attempts to stop him from doing so.[14]

Minister of State for Defence Procurement[edit]

Aitken became Minister of State for Defence Procurement under prime minister John Major in 1992.[15] He was later accused of violating ministerial rules by allowing an Arab businessman to pay for his stay in the Paris Ritz, perjured himself and was jailed (see below).[15]

Aitken had previously been a director of BMARC, an arms exporter, from 1988 to 1990.[15] In 1995, a Commons motion showed that while a Cabinet minister he had signed a controversial Public Interest Immunity Certificate (PIIC) in September 1992 relating to the Matrix Churchill trial, and that the 'gagged' documents included ones relating to the supply of arms to Iran by BMARC for a period when he was a director of the company.[16]

Chief Secretary to the Treasury[edit]

He became Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1994, a Cabinet position, but resigned in 1995 following the allegations that he had violated ministerial rules.

He was defeated in the 1997 election.[15] Within a year he had been appointed as a representative for the arms company GEC-Marconi[15] (part of BAE Systems since November 1999).

Libel, arrest and prison[edit]

Libel action[edit]

On 10 April 1995, The Guardian carried a front-page report on Aitken's dealings with leading Saudis. The story was the result of a long investigation carried out by journalists from the newspaper and from Granada Television's World in Action programme. Aitken had called a press conference at the Conservative Party offices in Smith Square, London, at 5 p.m. that same day denouncing the claims and demanding that the World in Action documentary, which was due to be screened three hours later, withdraw them. He said:

If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it. My fight begins today. Thank you and good afternoon.[17]

The World in Action film, "Jonathan of Arabia"', was transmitted as planned and Aitken carried out his threat to sue. The action collapsed in June 1997 (a month after he had lost his seat in the 1997 general election) when The Guardian and Granada produced, via their counsel George Carman QC, evidence countering his claim that his wife, Lolicia Aitken, paid for the hotel stay at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. The evidence consisted of airline vouchers and other documents showing that his wife had, in fact, been in Switzerland at the time when she had allegedly been at the Ritz in Paris. The joint Guardian/Granada investigation indicated an arms deal scam involving Aitken's friend and business partner, the Lebanese businessman Mohammed Said Ayas, a close associate of Prince Mohammed of Saudi Arabia. It was alleged that Aitken had been prepared to have his teenage daughter Victoria lie under oath to support his version of events, had the case continued.[18]

A few days after the libel case collapsed, World in Action broadcast a special edition, which echoed Aitken's "sword of truth" speech. It was entitled "The Dagger of Deceit".

During this time it emerged that when Aitken was being encouraged to resign, he was chairman of the secretive right wing think-tank Le Cercle,[19] alleged by Alan Clark to be funded by the CIA.[20]

Perjury conviction and imprisonment[edit]

Aitken was charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice and, after pleading guilty on 8 June 1999 to both offences, was jailed for 18 months[21] of which he served almost seven months as a custodial sentence.[22] During the preceding libel trial, his wife Lolicia, who later left him, was called as a witness to sign a supportive affidavit to the effect that she had paid his Paris hotel bill, but did not appear. In the end, with the case already in court, investigative work by The Guardian reporters into Swiss hotel and British Airways records showed that neither his daughter nor his wife had been in Paris at the time in question.[21]


Aitken was unable to cover the legal costs of his libel trial[citation needed] and was declared bankrupt. As part of the bankruptcy, his trustees settled legal actions against the magazine Private Eye, over the claims it had made that Aitken was a "serial liar". He also became one of the few people to resign from the Privy Council. Aitken's wife and three daughters turned up to support him when he was sentenced.

Christian faith[edit]

Aitken attended the Alpha Course in 1997, which he said stirred his interest in Christianity. He attended the course on further occasions prior to imprisonment.[23] After being imprisoned in 1999, he began to study the Bible, learned Greek, and became a student of Christian theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. This part of his life is covered in two autobiographical works called Pride and Perjury and Porridge and Passion.

Aitken's claim that he had found God initially met with some scepticism,[24][25]

The Guardian might insist that Aitken demonstrate the sincerity of repentance by repaying the whopping legal bill of one-and-half-million pounds he landed on them by his dishonest libel action. He was allowed to drop the case on promising to pay costs, but then escaped from the liability when he declared himself bankrupt and revealed that most of his apparent assets turn out to be conveniently owned by other people. The Guardian still believe he has more resources than he will admit.[24][25]

He said that he would not become a vicar because he is not worthy of the office and "wouldn't like to give dog-collars a bad name".[26]

In 2006 Aitken became honorary president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.[27]

Ordained ministry[edit]

On 30 June 2018, Aitken was ordained in the Church of England as a deacon by Sarah Mullally, the Bishop of London.[28][29] Since then he has served as a non-stipendiary minister at St Matthew's Church, Westminster[30] and as the chaplain of Pentonville Prison.[31]

Exactly one year after becoming deacon, on 30 June 2019, Aitken was ordained as an Anglican priest in St Mary's Church, Stoke Newington, by the Bishop of London.

Political comebacks[edit]

In early 2004, some constituency party members in Aitken's former seat of South Thanet proposed that he should return as Conservative candidate for the seat in the 2005 general election. This was vetoed by Conservative Party leader Michael Howard.[32]

Aitken later confirmed that he would not attempt a return to Parliament, saying that "the leader has spoken. I accept his judgement with good grace." He denied rumours he was to stand as an independent candidate insisting that he was not a "spoiler".

Aitken later declared his support for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)[33] a week before the party's equally strong performance as the Liberal Democrats, with both parties winning 12 seats each in the 2004 European elections. On 2 October 2004, Aitken attended the (UKIP) conference and re-iterated his support for the party.

In November 2007, with the approval of senior members of the shadow cabinet, he took charge of a task force on prison reform within Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice to help formulate Conservative Party policy.[34] Aitken said this was not part of a political comeback. Conservative spokesmen pointed out that the task force is independent of the party, even though the organisation is run by Iain Duncan Smith. The report Locked Up Potential: A Strategy to Reform our Prisons and Rehabilitate our Prisoners[35][36] was published in March 2009.[37][38]

Parliamentary access[edit]

In September 2020, it was revealed that the former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, awarded Aitken a grace-and-favour parliamentary pass despite the House of Commons claiming that former MPs who had been sentenced to a period of imprisonment of one year or more were ineligible.[39]


The Young Meteors[edit]

In his early book The Young Meteors (London: Secker & Warburg, 1967; New York: Atheneum, 1967), Aitken profiled the brightest lights among the younger generation in Britain, and particularly London, with a hint in the title that many of these were likely to burn and crash. Hunter Davies, one of the people profiled, has pointed out that such lists of the promising were then common in The Sunday Times, but unusual as books.[40] Much later, Craig Taylor in 2003 observed that those profiled who were still burning brightly included Michael Caine, David Bailey, Twiggy, David Frost and Don McCullin. Taylor found it humdrum, but:

the book is worth re-examining these many years later for one reason. Aitken, it has been shown over time, is a figure we can always learn something from, a kind of walking, well-groomed Grimm's fairy tale. . . . In [this book] he intuits the popularity and importance of unquantifiable lists of who is hot, young and going places.[41]

Aitken himself in 2003 had a low opinion of the book: "In terms of style, it was certainly the worst book I've ever written".[42] Yet the title was memorable: it was consciously adopted by Martin Harrison for a survey of the British photojournalism (including Bailey and McCullin) of about the same period.[43]

Later books[edit]

Aitken has written several Christian religious books since his release from prison. Aitken has published two books of prayers, Prayers for People under Pressure (2006)[44] and Psalms for People Under Pressure (2004),[45] and wrote a biography of the English slaver and Anglican clergyman John Newton, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace in 2007.[46]

Aitken has written several biographies of political figures, including the President of the United States Richard Nixon (Nixon: A Life, 1993), and Nixon's co-conspirator in the Watergate scandal, Charles Colson (Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed, 2005). Colson had assisted Aitken in his biography of Nixon, and had later corresponded with Aitken urging him to repent in the wake of the Guardian libel case.[44] In 2009 Aitken published a biography of the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev (Nazarbayev and the Making of Kazakhstan: From Communism to Capitalism), with his subject's cooperation.[47] Aitken published a book of personal recollections of Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality, after her death in 2013.[48]


  • A Short Walk On The Campus (1966, with Michael Beloff)
  • Young Meteors (1967)
  • Land of Fortune: A Study of the New Australia (1970)
  • From John Bull to Uncle Sam: How to Run An Empire (1970)
  • Officially Secret (1971)
  • A British View of the Middle East Situation (1976)
  • Nixon: A Life (1993)
  • Pride and Perjury: An Autobiography (2003)
  • Psalms for People Under Pressure (2004)
  • Porridge and Passion: An Autobiography (2005)
  • Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed (2005)
  • Prayers for People under Pressure (2006)
  • Heroes and Contemporaries (2007)
  • John Newton (2007)
  • Nazarbayev and the Making of Kazakhstan: From Communism to Capitalism (2009)
  • Kazakhstan and Twenty Years of Independence (2012)
  • Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality (2013)

See also[edit]

  • Jeffrey Archer, Aitken's contemporary, another Conservative politician imprisoned for perjury
  • Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat politician, imprisoned for perverting the course of justice



  1. ^ Stenton and Lees Who's Who of British Members of Parliament vol. iv p. 2
  2. ^ a b c d e "Aitken, Jonathan William Patrick", Who's Who 2014, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2014; online ed., Oxford University Press, 2013 ; online ed., Dec 2013
  3. ^ "Aitken weds for second time". BBC News. 25 June 2003. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  4. ^ a b Ridley, Yvonne (10 January 1999). "Family rallies round Aitken's secret Khashoggi love child". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  5. ^ Edwardes, Charlotte (12 August 2001). "Aitken children in fight to keep share of estate". Telegraph. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  6. ^ "Life – The Times". 12 September 2012. Archived from the original on 12 September 2012.
  7. ^ "Jonathan Aitken is of 'royal blood'". Michael Wolfe. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d "The House I Grew Up In, with Jonathan Aitken as participant". The House I Grew Up In. 29 September 2009. BBC. BBC Radio 4.
  9. ^ a b Adams, Tim (8 February 2004). "Pilgrim's progress". London: Retrieved 1 October 2009.
  10. ^ "The Real Jonathan Aitken". Channel 4.
  11. ^ "YTV 40 years old – A voice for Yorkshire". Yorkshire Evening Post. 21 July 2008. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  12. ^ "Jonathan Aitken – a 'swashbuckling' life". BBC News. 7 December 1998. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  13. ^ For an account of the trial, see Aitken, J., Officially Secret, 1971, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  14. ^ A Web of Deceit: The Spycatcher Affair, by Chapman Pincher, London 1987, Sidgwick and Jackson, ISBN 0-283-99654-4
  15. ^ a b c d e "Jonathan Aitken: a timeline". The Guardian. London. 8 June 1999. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  16. ^ Blackhurst, Chris (29 June 1995). "MPs to question Aitken over BMARC arms allegations". The Independent. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  17. ^ "Aitken sues over Saudi claims". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  18. ^ "Atkin". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  19. ^ Hirst, Chrissie (2000). The Arabian Connection: The UK Arms Trade to Saudi Arabia. ISBN 0-9506922-5-5. Archived from the original on 22 September 2008.
  20. ^ Blackhurst, Chris (29 June 1997). "Aitken dropped by the Right's secret club". The Independent. London. Retrieved 8 March 2010.
  21. ^ a b "Aitken jailed for 18 months". The Guardian. London. 8 June 1999. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  22. ^ "BBC News UK POLITICS Aitken freed from prison". Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  23. ^ "Jonathan Aitken says Sorry". the Tablet. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  24. ^ a b "Jonathan Aitken's confession". The Tablet. 21 May 1998. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  25. ^ a b Blackhurst, Chris (21 December 1997). "Villain of the Year: Jonathan Aitken; The liar who claims he's turned to God for solace – Life & Style". The Independent. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  26. ^ Barwick, Sandra (2 November 2000). "I am not worthy of life as a vicar, says Aitken". Telegraph. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  27. ^ "Christian Solidarity website 2006". Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  28. ^ "Diocese welcomes new clergy for London churches". Diocese of London. 2 July 2018. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  29. ^ "Ex-Tory MP Aitken becomes prison chaplain". BBC News. 30 June 2018. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  30. ^ "Jonathan Aitken". Crockford's Clerical Directory (online ed.). Church House Publishing. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  31. ^ "Jails in desperate need of support, says Jonathan Aitken". The Church Times. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  32. ^ "Howard blocks Aitken's comeback". BBC News. 6 February 2004. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  33. ^ "Disgraced Tory Aitken backs UKIP". BBC News. 4 June 2004. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  34. ^ Watt, Nicholas (11 November 2007). "Disgraced Aitken in key new Tory role". The Observer. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  35. ^ Hinsliff, Gaby (22 March 2009). "Give convicts a fresh start, pleads Aitken". The Observer. London. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  36. ^ "Locked up potential" (PDF). Centre for Social Justice. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  37. ^ Travis, Alan (25 March 2009). "Scrap Titan jail plans, urges Jonathan Aitken". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  38. ^ James, Erwin (25 March 2009). "Prisoners of hope". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  39. ^ Pegg, David; Duncan, Pamela (20 September 2020). "Jonathan Aitken given parliamentary pass despite jail sentence". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  40. ^ Davies quoted in Craig Taylor, "Promises, promises", The Guardian, 6 September 2003. Accessed 12 February 2013.
  41. ^ Craig Taylor, "Promises, promises", The Guardian, 6 September 2003. Accessed 12 February 2013.
  42. ^ Aitken quoted in Craig Taylor, "Promises, promises", The Guardian, 6 September 2003. Accessed 12 February 2013.
  43. ^ Martin Harrison, Young Meteors: British Photojournalism, 1957–1965 (London: Cape, 1998; ISBN 0-224-05129-6). Harrison writes in the book's preface: "The title 'Young Meteors' [is] taken from Jonathan Aitken's 1976 survey of the financial enterprise of sixties youth. . . ."
  44. ^ a b Aitken, Jonathan (10 November 2006). Prayers for People Under Pressure. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-0-8264-8275-4.
  45. ^ Aitken, Jonathan (29 January 2004). Psalms for People Under Pressure. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-0-8264-7275-5.
  46. ^ Aitken, Jonathan (2007). John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace. Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-9383-5.
  47. ^ Marre, Oliver (6 April 2008). "Pendennis". The Observer. London. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  48. ^ Jonathan Aitken (2013). Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality. A&C Black. ISBN 978-1-4088-3184-7.


  • Stenton, M., Lees, S. (1981). Who's Who of British Members of Parliament, volume iv (covering 1945–1979). Sussex: The Harvester Press; New Jersey: Humanities Press. ISBN 0-391-01087-5.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Thanet East
Constituency abolished
Member of Parliament for South Thanet
Succeeded by
Stephen Ladyman
Political offices
Preceded by
Michael Portillo
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
William Waldegrave