JONATHAN Aitken, the former Conservative cabinet minister who served a prison sentence for perjury, will preach at a service to mark the 200th anniversary of HMP Durham.

Reverend Aitken, who is now an Anglican priest, will give an address at a special service at Durham Cathedral at 5.15pm on Wednesday. It has been organised in partnership with HMP Durham and will focus on the importance of rehabilitation within the criminal justice system.

The special service is part of Durham Cathedral’s Prisons Week. Members of the congregation will hear testimonies from those who have been incarcerated in the past.

Rev Aitken has first-hand experience of the effects of prison, having been sentenced to 18 months in prison, before turning his life around dramatically. The same is true of John O’Conner, a former inmate of Durham Prison, who will also give his testimony during the service.

Rev Aitken said: “At first glance, a service celebrating a prison is a strange oxymoron, yet so much good work is done in prisons by dedicated prison officers and probation and other support staff, all of which has a transformative impact on the lives of prisoners.

"As an ex-prisoner and now as a prison chaplain, I know how valuable the work in prison can be, so I feel honoured to be taking part in the service on Wednesday.”

The service will see prison governor Phil Husband, presenting awards for long service and good conduct to staff at HMP Durham. It will will also feature music from Durham Cathedral Choir and readings, reflecting on the themes of forgiveness and second chances from Christ’s teachings.

Prayers will be led by prison chaplains and there will be an act of commitment to the common good which will be led by chaplains of other faiths.

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Vice Dean of Durham Cathedral said: “Durham Cathedral and Durham Prison look across the River Wear at each other and the cathedral bells which call people to worship at the cathedral sound in the prison yard.

"This service allows us to reach out a hand of recognition and affirmation to staff and inmate alike at this significant time in the prison’s life.”

Canon Hampel will visit Durham Prison to talk to inmates before the service takes place at Durham Cathedral. Jonathan Aitken will follow in his footsteps, visiting the prison on the afternoon of the service.

It will be a poignant and significant moment in the life of cathedral and prison – two very different Durham institutions who share a commitment to public service.

The service is free of charge and open to all.