Chris Huhne and ex-wife in the dock

 

Former energy secretary Chris Huhne made his first appearance in court today over a charge of perverting the course of justice after he allegedly dodged a speeding penalty.

Prosecutors claim the wealthy Liberal Democrat politician persuaded his ex-wife Vicky Pryce to take points that should have been placed on his driving licence in 2003.

Almost a decade later, the pair barely exchanged a glance as they stood in the dock at Westminster Magistrates' Court, in central London, where they face the same charge.

Huhne and Pryce spoke only to confirm their names, dates of birth and addresses.

The court heard the case would be adjourned to March 2 at Southwark Crown Court.

Both defendants were granted unconditional bail.

Huhne, dressed in a dark suit and patterned tie, listened intently as the charge against him was read to the court.

His former wife, an eminent economist, sat several seats away from her ex-husband in a cropped beige jacket and black high-heeled shoes. The pair faced away from each other as the charges were read out during the hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes.

The events which led to the charges date back to March 2003, when Huhne's car was allegedly caught by a speed camera on the motorway between Stansted Airport in Essex and London.

But accusations of impropriety only emerged in 2010, after the father-of-five admitted an affair with PR adviser Carina Trimingham and ended his 26-year marriage.

He quit his job as a Cabinet minister earlier this month after it was announced he would face criminal charges, following an eight-month police investigation.

With a packed public gallery looking on, legal adviser James McDermott told the pair: "The charges upon which you will stand trial at Southwark Crown Court are slightly different so I will put them to you both."

Turning first to Pryce, 59, of Clapham, south London, he said: "During the course of an investigation into an offence of driving a vehicle in excess of the speed limit on March 12 2003, (you) falsely informed the investigating authorities that you had been the driver of the said vehicle, thereby enabling yourself to falsely admit responsibility for the said offence, causing your licence to be endorsed with three penalty points."

Huhne, 57, who remains the MP for his hometown of Eastleigh in Hampshire, was told he faced a similar count for allegedly informing the authorities that his Greek ex-wife had been behind the wheel.

The two defendants were granted unconditional bail before they were instructed to arrive at the crown court by 9.30am on March 2.

Perverting the course of justice carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

PA

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