Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce both jailed for eight months for perverting course of justice in speeding points scam as couple are reunited for the final act of their tragic family drama
Paul Peachey watched the adulterous former cabinet minister and his vengeful ex-wife hear their fate – side by side
Tuesday 12 March 2013
After months of lies, denials and defiance came the payback. Picking up his suit carrier and his smart black coat from the floor of the dock, a crushed and contrite Chris Huhne headed to one of London’s Victorian prisons for a new uniform of ill-fitting jeans and shoes worn by the prisoners who had served time before him.
In the final chapter of a 10-year saga, Huhne and his former wife, Vicky Pryce, were both jailed for eight months yesterday for swapping penalty speeding points in an offence that the court heard had struck at the heart of the criminal justice system.
Huhne betrayed little emotion as he was sent down by the judge, who told him that he had lied "again and again" to avoid the consequences of a driving ban to further his stellar career.
"You have fallen from a great height," Mr Justice Sweeney told the former Energy and Climate Change Secretary. Huhne was expected to be sent to the overcrowded Wandsworth Prison in south London, but could be out in two months on an electronic tag.
Pryce, who was described as having a "controlling, manipulative and devious side" and whose campaign of revenge led to his unmasking after he revealed an extra-marital affair, was likely to go to HMP Holloway.
In court and in a series of interviews last night, Huhne apologised for his crime – which he committed exactly 10 years ago today – amid the tatters of a career that had seen him standing for the Liberal Democrat leadership and taken him into the Cabinet. He becomes the first former cabinet minister since Jonathan Aitken to be sent to prison.
He pleaded guilty to the offence last month to avoid a "bloodbath" during a bitterly contested court case. While he denied bullying his wife into taking his points, he said that he wished she had been found not guilty for the sake of his family.
"I am sorry. I want to say that to family, to friends, to constituents and to colleagues, and more broadly to everybody who cares passionately about the causes I care about, including saving the planet for our children and our grandchildren," he told The Guardian.
But for a man who drove forward global climate change talks in 2010, the former minister was left with only two things to cling on to after the ruin of his career: the support of his partner and the hope of reconciliation with his children.
His family was torn apart by revelations during his wife's two trials, including claims that he bullied her into having an abortion. It was the only part of her evidence that he contested yesterday at Southwark Crown Court.
David Cameron said last night: "It's a reminder that no one, however high or mighty, is out of the reach of the justice system." Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described the jailing of his former Cabinet colleague as "a personal tragedy".
Huhne was supported in court by his partner, Carina Trimingham, and his father. He carried his fate heavily. "I would venture to suggest nobody has ever lost more, so publicly, and suffered such vilification for an offence [of point swapping]," said his barrister John Kelsey-Fry, QC.
The judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, said the couple probably believed that they would get away with the offence, committed at night on the M11 in 2003.
"You did get away with it, for some eight years," he told them. He added that Huhne had been the more culpable of the pair.
"You have fallen from a great height, albeit 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.
"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."
There was little sign of the swagger and confidence that marked Huhne's political career as he sat looking dazed throughout the hearing. The former couple sat 4ft apart in the dock, an empty seat between them, but barely looked at each other during a hearing that spanned three hours.
At one point Huhne directed a few words at his ex-wife, but Pryce, who wore a black jacket over a silver-grey top, appeared not to respond, instead pouring a drink of water for herself.
The Crown Prosecution Service is seeking to recover legal and police costs from both Huhne and Pryce, amounting to nearly £150,000.
Huhne was facing a demand for the larger part of the costs after seeking to get the case against him thrown out – despite knowing that he was guilty.
The prosecution said that he had displayed "selective amnesia" during police interviews by saying he could not remember the offence. The hearing was postponed to a later date after the court heard that Huhne's legal team was questioning some of the costs.
Ms Pryce was found guilty at a second trial after a jury rejected her defence that she had been bullied into taking the points by her ex-husband.
The story only came to light in May 2011 when her account was printed in The Sunday Times after a sustained campaign by Pryce to ruin her ex-husband's career in revenge for his extra-marital affair with Ms Trimingham. She claimed Huhne prioritised his political ambitions throughout their marriage.
Andrew Edis QC, prosecuting, said the case against Huhne would have relied on circumstantial evidence including phone calls recorded by Pryce and text messages between the former MP and his son.
Mr Kelsey-Fry told the court: "In 2003 Huhne did wrong. It was a serious wrong, a crime considered serious because it strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system."
He said Huhne had maintained a dignified silence during Pryce's trials, but wanted to deny claims Pryce had made about abortions "in the most strenuous terms".
Mr Kelsey-Fry said: "Mr Huhne has suffered the very direst of consequences for this aberrant behaviour 10 years ago."
Four MPs who were sent to jail
Four former Labour MPs – Elliot Morley, David Chaytor, Jim Devine and Eric Illsley - went to prison during 2011 for fiddling their expenses. A fifth, Margaret Moran, was given a supervision order after a psychiatric report said she was unfit to plead.
Jonathan Aitken vowed to wield the ‘simple sword of truth’ against The Guardian for reporting his part in an arms deal - but he was lying, and was convicted of perjury, the last ex-Cabinet minister to go to prison.
Jeffrey Archer, the ex-MP and novelist, won a £500,000 libel award in 1987 after the Daily Star reported that he had been using a prostitute. Years later, it emerged that he had bribed a witness, and he was sentenced to four years.
John Stonehouse, the former Postmaster General, tried to escape his creditors in 1974 by leaving his clothes on a Miami beach as a pretend suicide. He was discovered in Australia, returned to the UK, and sentenced to seven years for fraud.
Horatio Bottomley was a sitting MP in 1922 when he was sentenced to seven years for fraud, over his management of a scheme similar to premium bonds. It is said that he was given work in Wormwood Scrubs making mail sacks. A chaplain asked him: “ Sewing, Bottomley?” and he replied “No, reaping.”
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