November 26, 2020

Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce jailed for eight months

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_66329670_b3be9132-1d32-49a8-8de1-a9f4286652c2Former cabinet minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce have each been jailed for eight months for perverting the course of justice.

Huhne, 58, had admitted asking Pryce to take his speeding points to avoid losing his licence in 2003, and Pryce was convicted last week of doing so.

Pryce, 60, went to a newspaper with the story after their marriage broke up.

The judge at Southwark Crown Court said Huhne had fallen from a “great height” but any tragedy was their “own fault”.

Huhne, who resigned as an MP after pleading guilty, told Channel 4 News ahead of sentencing that his actions in 2003 had spun into a “massive, devastating set of consequences for family, for career and for everything”

vicky pryce Andy Rain pressphotoSentencing the pair, trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney said Huhne had lied “again and again”.

He told the couple: “To the extent that anything good has come out of this whole process, it is that now, finally, you have both been brought to justice for your joint offence.

“Any element of tragedy is entirely your own fault.”

During Pryce’s trial, the prosecution alleged that she had chosen to take the points but later plotted to expose Huhne after he revealed he was having an affair with an aide and ended the couple’s 26-year marriage.

Pryce, a prominent economist, was described as being “controlling, manipulative and devious” by the judge.

He said her “weapon of choice” – telling newspapers she took the points – had been a dangerous weapon because they had both broken the law.

And the momentum of the news story led to Pryce’s “unmasking”.

Mr Justice Sweeney said point-swapping was “all too easy to do” but it amounted to the serious criminal offence of perverting the course of justice.

The judge told former energy and climate change secretary Huhne he was “more culpable” for the offence.

He said: “You have fallen from a great height, albeit that that is only modest mitigation given that it is a height that you would never have achieved if you had not hidden your commission of such a serious offence in the first place.”

He said Huhne would have been sentenced to nine months, had it not been for his guilty plea which meant he was entitled to a “discount” on the term.

Turning to Pryce, who was sitting just a few metres apart from her ex-husband in the dock, he told the economist she had been readily persuaded to take the points.

The judge said that, unless released earlier under supervision, the pair would each serve half of their eight-month sentences.

Huhne resigned from the cabinet after being charged and as the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh in Hampshire after pleading guilty.

Speaking to The Times ahead of sentencing, he said: “Going to jail is a fairly small bit of the total penalty. What was really painful was losing the one job I really wanted to do. Climate change is something I care passionately about.”

He added that he had hoped Pryce would be acquitted for the sake of their family.

The breakdown of the relationship between Huhne and the couple’s son Peter over the case was laid bare during Pryce’s trial. Text messages between the father and son were read out in court.

Huhne told the Times: “I didn’t want her to go to jail, I told the kids and everybody else that. Revenge eats you up. It does worse things to you than to the person you are attempting to attack.”

‘Life-changing consequences’

Asked about the jailing of his former cabinet colleague, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “It’s a reminder that no-one, however high and mighty, is out of the reach of the justice system.”

And a spokesman for Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: “As Nick has said, this is a personal tragedy for Chris, Vicky and their families.

“After their sentences are served, Nick hopes that they will both be given the time and space to rebuild their lives.”

The court heard the cost of Huhne’s prosecution was £79,015 and Pryce’s was £38,544 – making a total of £117,558.

Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said the CPS was seeking to claim an extra £31,000 from Huhne for costs incurred by his attempts to get the case thrown out and the extra police investigation.

Speaking outside the court, Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge – from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate – said: “This case acts as a very timely reminder for all those people who may be facing a driving ban and are thinking of passing their points onto others.

“This is not only unlawful but, as you can see from today’s events, leads to life-changing consequences.”

The pair were greeted by hordes of photographers and TV cameras as they arrived at court before sentencing.

Huhne arrived with partner Carina Trimingham, who he left Pryce for in June 2010.

Huhne and Pryce were charged last year over an incident in March 2003 when Huhne’s BMW car was caught by a speed camera on the M11 between Stansted Airport in Essex and London. He was an MEP at the time.

The prosecution said that between 12 March and 21 May 2003, Pryce had falsely informed police she had been the driver of the car, so Huhne would avoid prosecution.

He was in danger of losing his licence having already accrued nine penalty points.

After the case, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott issued a personal statement as “a long-standing family friend” of the pair.

“This is a personal and political tragedy. Chris was a dynamic, decisive, strategic minister – an object lesson to us all in how to fight as hard in office as in opposition for the environment, economic growth, Europe and essential liberties,” he said.

Lord Oakeshott is a distant cousin of Sunday Times political editor Isabel Oakeshott, to whom Pryce first revealed details of the points swapping in 2011 after her marriage broke up.

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Related story:

A British Power Couple’s Long, Seamy Slide

By JOHN F. BURNS New York Times

LONDON — For years, they were one of London’s most glittering couples: he a fast-rising politician with fashionably left-of-center views on social issues and a background in high finance that had yielded a multimillion-dollar fortune; she a top government economist, who once hinted to an interviewer that she had ambitions to be Britain’s first female chancellor of the Exchequer.

But in a reversal of fortune laced with Jeffrey Archer-like plotlines of ambition, deceit and revenge, their world collapsed about them. Ultimately, their story was one that doomed their marriage and their reputations — and left them, after a trial that ended Thursday before a high court judge, facing the probability that both will go to prison for several months, and possibly longer.

After two trials and more than 25 hours of jury deliberations, Vicky Pryce, a Greek-born economist who agreed in 2003 to falsely name herself as the driver in a speeding offense committed by her husband, Chris Huhne, was found guilty on a unanimous jury vote of perverting the course of justice.

The BBC reported that Ms. Pryce, 60, met the verdict by gulping silently before leaving the court, on bail until her sentencing, without talking to the waiting reporters and television crews.

The judge in the case, Sir Nigel Sweeney, warned Ms. Pryce that she should have “no illusions” about the sentence likely to be imposed, a phrase commonly used to warn of a prison term. Justice Sweeney gave the same warning last month to Mr. Huhne, 58, when he averted a trial with a last-minute plea of guilty to the same charge, after years of calling rumors about the speeding ticket switch “nonsense” and “lies.”

Switching identities in speeding cases involving roadside police cameras is something the police say many thousands of people in Britain do each year. For Mr. Huhne, with three previous speeding convictions in the year before the 2003 episode, the penalty points would have brought a driving ban. By his estimation at the time, according to court testimony, it could also have cost him his bid to win a parliamentary seat in 2005, the key to switching his political career to London from Brussels, where he had been a member of the European Parliament.

Ultimately, though, the gamble could hardly have been more costly. Had he pleaded guilty at the time, he would have faced a $100 fine and been barred from driving for six months to a year; by lying in the case, he ultimately lost his cabinet post, the first politician in British history to be forced from office by a criminal prosecution, as well as his parliamentary seat, and, British pundits say, any prospect of a future political career.

The might-have-beens in the case helped keep it in the headlines. Had thousands of absentee ballots in his favor not been delayed in the mail, Mr. Huhne would probably have won the leadership of the Liberal Democrats in 2007, instead of losing narrowly to his chief rival, Nick Clegg. A leadership win would then have made him deputy prime minister to David Cameron, a post now held by Mr. Clegg, when the Liberals joined Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives in a coalition government in 2010.

But it has been the venomous personal vendetta, more than the politics of the case, that has transfixed many in Britain. Ms. Pryce stuck with the deceit over the speeding ticket for more than seven years until Mr. Huhne, faced with the imminent exposure of an extramarital affair with one of his political aides by a London tabloid, abruptly walked out of the 25-year marriage.

The court heard that Ms. Pryce learned the news from her husband when he confronted her during a halftime break in a Saturday-afternoon telecast of a World Cup soccer match in 2010, announcing that he needed an immediate separation to save his cabinet post.

Ms. Pryce testified in court that he had bullied her into accepting the speeding ticket, and said she had had no choice but to sign a court summons after Mr. Huhne, without consulting her, identified her as the driver in his response to the original summons. Pleading “marital coercion,” a rarely used defense in British courts, her lawyer cast her as a deeply vulnerable woman, keen to protect her marriage and her five children. He said she was accustomed to yielding to the overbearing demands of Mr. Huhne, who she said demanded on two occasions that she have abortions so as not to disrupt his career with additional children.

That defense, however, which won broad support among female newspaper columnists and women’s rights groups in Britain, appeared to have made little impact on the jury in the trial; a previous trial last month ended with a hung jury. In finding Ms. Pryce guilty, the jurors, seven men and five women, appeared to have accepted the version put forward by the prosecution counsel, Andrew Edis, who described Ms. Pryce in court as a “strong-willed person” who had been prepared to “cheat the system” with Mr. Huhne until a desire for revenge over his deserting the marriage took over.

Evidence at the trial showed that Ms. Pryce had gone to two newspapers, The Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Times, with accounts of the ticket switch and avowals of her eagerness to end Mr. Huhne’s political career. A Sunday Times article based on her account, and on telephone conversations it recorded in which she tried to get Mr. Huhne to confess to the ticket scam, led to the police inquiry and the trials. The truth, Mr. Edis said, was that Ms. Pryce was “a woman who spent her life making important choices,” though she had contended in court that “she was unable to choose whether to commit a crime or not because a man, whether her husband or no, was telling her what she had to do.”

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