Chris Huhne: The affair, the phone call, and how it all went wrong for the millionaire minister

Andy McSmith charts his dazzling rise in the City and Westminster – and a speedy fall

Vicky Pryce was not cut out to be the tame little wronged wife hiding from the public eye after the humiliation of having her husband leave her for another woman. She did manage to keep her feelings to herself for 11 months, before deciding it was time to tell her story and show her ex-husband up as a man who could not be trusted.

She intended to damage his reputation, and possibly to put the brakes on his political career. She may have anticipated there would be some personal cost to herself, but she cannot, surely, have foreseen that she would find herself in court with her ex, facing a serious criminal charge.

Their 26-year marriage was a union of two bright, hard-working high-flyers. Before their acrimonious separation, she and her husband would play host each winter to a shindig for about 200 guests at their three-storey town house in Clapham, south London. After their break-up, it was held again, as usual, with the nation's top civil servant, Sir Gus O'Donnell, and the former Labour Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer among the guests. Only this time, Chris Huhne was absent.

When they first met, he was an economics journalist and she was a successful businesswoman who had risen to be chief economist for Williams & Glyn's bank before moving to KPMG. Born in 1952 as Vasiliki Courmouzis, in Athens, to Greek parents, she took the surname Pryce from her first marriage, by which she had two children. She was to have three more by Chris Huhne, without taking a career break.

Her independent income helped him to leave journalism, set himself up in the City and become a millionaire before he went into full-time politics. She too harboured an ambition to be a Liberal Democrat MP, which she probably could have been, because she was popular in the party, had a good working relationship with Vince Cable and an impressive CV.

In 2002, she moved from the private sector into the civil service, as the first woman to hold the post of Chief Economic Adviser at the Department of Trade and Industry, later the Department for Business. On election night, 6 May 2010, the couple stood side by side, posing for the cameras, as Mr Huhne was re-elected MP for Eastleigh. That night, Ms Pryce had no inkling that their life together was about to collapse.

The bombshell came six weeks later, on a Saturday afternoon, when she was watching a World Cup football match on television and heard the phone ring in another room. At half-time, she went to get something to eat, and her shaken husband came in to say that the call was from the News of the World, which had been on the trail of the newly appointed Secretary of State for Energy. The newspaper had proof that he had spent the previous night in his constituency home in Eastleigh with the former journalist Carina Trimingham, who had been his press secretary when he was running against Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrat leadership. He told his shocked wife they had "30 minutes to kill the story" – a phrase she later thought of using as a book title.

"In a few minutes I learnt that our marriage had come to an end. He went to the study and wrote the statement, and then went to the gym. That was that," she later told the BBC. That afternoon, Mr Huhne released a terse press statement saying: "I am in a serious relationship with Carina Trimingham and I am separating from my wife." This set off what must have been an excruciatingly humiliating round of media exposure, much of which focused on Ms Trimingham's personal life.

One story was about Mr Huhne's driving. It was known he had once been banned from driving for three months for using a phone at the wheel. An inaccurate rumour circulated he had been caught speeding when an MEP, but had avoided another ban by persuading "a female constituency aide" to take the points on her licence. His office dismissed the claim as "completely untrue".

For months, Ms Pryce, who had her children and career to think of, bore all this humiliation in silence – in public at least. Then in May 2011, a whole year after the general election, she gave an interview to a Sunday newspaper about the final days of her marriage.

During that interview, she was asked about that old rumour about the speeding offence. She could have denied it, or said she knew nothing about it, but she was either too angry or too honest, and she started a chain of events that brought her ex-husband's political career to a halt. The couple will meet again in Westminster Magistrates Court.

Charge: Perverting the course of justice

A disqualification from driving for amassing 12 penalty points on your licence is infinitely preferable to being convicted of perverting the course of justice under the common law.

The latter carries a maximum life sentence and a fine, although such a prolonged incarceration is highly unlikely. Even Karen Matthews, who kidnapped her own daughter Shannon to claim reward money, was jailed for eight years for perverting the course of justice in conjunction with other offences.

Last year, a Bournemouth man was jailed for eight weeks after he falsely claimed he wasn't behind the wheel when a car was caught speeding on four separate occasions.

Fabricating or disposing of evidence, threatening or intimidating a witness, juror or judge can all constitute perverting the course of justice, although a positive act is required to warrant the charge: you can't be tried for simple inaction.

The Conservative MPs Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken were both jailed for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The two offences are often confused. Perjury, or lying under oath – not one of the charges levelled at Mr Huhne – is a statutory offence under the Perjury Act 1911.

According to a poll of 2,000 drivers last year, 3 per cent of male drivers are guilty of point-swapping. The person who receives the penalty on their behalf can also be charged with perverting the course of justice.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn