Magazine article The Spectator

Who? Where? When? above All, Why?

Magazine article The Spectator

Who? Where? When? above All, Why?

Article excerpt

STILL the questions remain. Jonathan Aitken, we now know, was lying about his stay at the Ritz in Paris - what Lady Aitken, his ever loyal mother, describes as `the piffling arrangement' about who paid `the stupid bill'. But there is much we still do not know. We do not know if he pimped for Arabs or was involved in illegal arms deals with them, as the Guardian had said, because these two matters were not tested in court before Mr Aitken surrendered. Nor do we know why he lied about his Ritz hill, why he was in the Ritz in the first place, and what murky secret, if any, he is concealing which made him think it so necessary to attack the Guardian with his sword of truth.

Whatever it is that Mr Aitken is hiding, he has so far, despite the best efforts of the Guardian and other newspapers, done a pretty good job of it. We are all, the Guardian included. still in the dark. The truth will emerge in the end, no doubt. It is said Mr Aitken is in talks with publishers about a book and his estranged wife Lolicia is prepared to sell her story to the tabloids and `take him to the cleaners' in a divorce settlement.

It was a convulsive 48-hour sequence of events which brought about the end. It was only on Wednesday that Mr Aitken decided to put his daughter in the witness box as well as his wife, in an attempt to try the `fragrant woman' defence used to such effect in the Lord Archer libel trial. Why? Apparently because he sensed that the judge was beginning to doubt his story about the Ritz bill. But later on Wednesday, the Guardian got its crucial evidence: the British Airways flight details showing that Mrs Aitken and her 17-year-old daughter Victoria had not travelled by ferry and car to France, then Switzerland, where she was starting a new school, as they had said, but flown to Switzerland direct.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, says, `We knew the wife would corroborate his story but the bombshell was that he was going to put his daughter in the box. On Wednesday his legal team went round saying, tomorrow is Ladies' Day [a reference to Ascot]. George Carman [the Guardian's barrister] said it would have been very difficult to cross-examine Victoria. When I say cross-examine I mean tear apart somebody in the way they do. You just can't flay a 17year-old girl.'

But there are also unanswered questions about the Guardian. Why did it take the newspaper until well into the trial to find the crucial evidence which caused Mr Aitken to drop his libel action? On the face of it, it looks like not prize-winning but sloppy journalism, given that the reputation of the newspaper and millions of pounds were at stake. It also makes it look as if the newspaper came within a whisker of defeat. The judge had already ruled in Mr Aitken's favour on the first of the four issues - his knowledge of the illegal supply of arms to Iraq by a firm of which he was a non-executive director. The judge -- sitting without a jury - had agreed with Mr Aitken that the Guardian article meant that he knew. The newspaper had argued it had merely meant he should have known. Things were looking good for Mr Aitken. But then came issue number two - the Ritz.

So much for the trial. But what of the motive for bringing it? I have established that Mr Aitken shared his bed with another woman who was not his wife at the Ritz that weekend in September 1993. But surely a desire to conceal this infidelity was not enough not with the Aitkens - to prompt such a perilous libel action, given the lying that became necessary. He and his wife, from whom he announced his separation last Thursday after 18 years of marriage, are known to have lived separate lives for years. Anyway, she knew about his infidelities, if we are to believe the Aitkens' former housekeeper, quoted in Monday's Mirror, and she was philosophical about them. She also knew about his sado-masochistic sex. She must have read earlier revelations in another tabloid of a former Islington prostitute who had dined with him at Porto Fino, a rather dingy Italian restaurant in Camden Passage. …

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