A 20th Century Saint

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Jonathan Aitken

Lord Longford, the founder of New Bridge, was a 20th century saint in his love for prisoners and his dedication to visiting them. I knew him well both as a friend and as a prison visitor.

When I was serving my sentence for perjury, Lord Longford, a family friend of my parents and grandparents, came to visit me three times in seven months. He was 95 years old at the time and in his absent minded way he sometimes turned up unannounced and outside normal visiting hours.

I will always remember the first of these visits at HMP Belmarsh.

A Senior Officer suddenly appeared on my wing to tell me that Lord Longford “was making a bit of a nuisance of himself at the gate with no Visiting Order”. As I recorded in my diary the S.O continued:

“I’ve decided to use my discretion to let him in. Not as a favour to you, but because I’ve got a lot of respect for the old boy. When I was a young officer starting out at Strangeways, he used to come all the way to Manchester to visit the worst of the worst. Same again at Gartree, same again at the Scrubs.

When you’ve been in this job for as long as I have you know that even the untouchables, perhaps especially the untouchables need to feel the warmth of human kindness. And that’s what Lord Longford had been doing for the last 40 years with his visits. He’s a very special gentleman in my book”.

As a young Oxford don, in the 1940s, Frank Pakenham (as Longford was then called) heard a sermon on the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats and was struck by the line “When I was in prison you visited me”. That inspired his regular prison visiting and led him to found New Bridge in 1956.

How happy Lord Longford would be to look down from his celestial perch and to see that his work goes on and flourishes at New Bridge, with the charity organising over 450 prison visits every year.

Jonathan Aitken

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