One cold day in February, a slender woman in a smart business suit crouched on her haunches behind the wall of a bookshop carefully checking her lipstick in the reflection of a window. An earnest young solicitor, a member of Vicky Pryce’s legal team, stood behind her speaking urgently on her mobile phone as if directing operations. It marked the start of the day’s manoeuvres.
Around the corner, laying in wait for Pryce, was a bank of photographers, a single placard-carrying demonstrator and his ferocious little dog carrying a sandwich board that warned of nuclear meltdown and political cover-up.
Passers-by stopped and stared, then moved swiftly on. That was how things worked in the strange case of R vs Pryce and Huhne.
For more than a year, the expensive legal tussle over a minor motoring offence has rumbled on at three different courts with two juries, a senior judge, and eminent barristers juggling commitments to other major cases of the day.
It will probably cost the two key players, Pryce, 60, and Huhne, 58, several hundred thousand pounds and almost certainly their liberty.
On Monday – a day before the 10th anniversary of the offence – this curious and sad saga will finally conclude when the ex-politician and his ex-wife return to Southwark Crown Court on the banks of the River Thames to face judgment over their decision to swap penalty points.
If previous history is anything to go by, they are unlikely to communicate, or even acknowledge each other’s presence when they stand in the dock for sentencing.
They did not when they first appeared more than a year ago, and they did not when the former politician pleaded guilty little more than a month ago – making the final transition from Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, to the convicted man who would then become known, according to the journalists’ custom, only as Huhne.
The trial judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, has the soothing, unflappable demeanour of one who would barely blink if addressed by a unicorn in a barrister’s cape asking for a seven-day adjournment to deal with urgent matters in Narnia.
But even he would no doubt accept that this trial has been a little odd. It has not only been the length of it, extended by months of legal argument as Huhne unsuccessfully tried to get the case against him thrown out. Even when his wife chose not to attend some preliminary hearings, Huhne turned up looking smooth, polished and confident to listen carefully to the arguments.
The delays continued even after the trial started. The controversy over the first jury allowed one journalist to start reporting the case, become a father, complete his paternity leave, and still come back to cover the end of it.
If, as the judge intimated, the pair are led away to start jail terms on Monday, they will at least be spared the chaos of Pryce’s post-verdict statement.
After increasingly tense relations between the nuclear protester and the TV crews and cameramen – which resulted in one undignified grapple among the shrubs outside the court – the protester delivered his final coup de grâce. As he was pulled out of view of the camera by two security guards who plainly wanted to be somewhere else, he shouted: “I am acting under the protection of article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.”
Vicky Pryce looked bemused.
It was a fitting end.Reuse content