A prominent barrister and judge was arrested and dropped as a prosecution witness in the trial of Chris Huhne’s ex-wife after she allegedly lied to police about her role in trying to ruin the career of the former Energy Secretary, a court heard today.
Constance Briscoe worked “hand in glove” with her friend Vicky Pryce to leak the story about how Huhne passed his speeding penalty points to his wife but denied in a police statement about having any contact with the media over the affair, a jury was told. She is currently under investigation by police, the court heard.
Pryce, who was married to Huhne for 26 years until he broke the news of his affair with an aide, had a series of meetings with journalists about the incident in 2003 in an act of revenge against her husband. Ms Briscoe operated as Pryce’s informal legal adviser and intermediary before the first stories appeared in May 2011 that that led to Huhne’s eventual demise, the court has heard.
The court has heard that Ms Briscoe had been in contact with the media for months before the first stories were published. In December 2010 – five months before the first story was printed – she received an email from a journalist asking for a statement about the affair. “If so, I suspect he will be an ex minister by Sunday lunch-time ...,” the email said.
Southwark Crown Court has heard that Ms Pryce, 60, first told the judge about taking the points on behalf of her husband in 2003. But after the break-up of Ms Pryce’s marriage in 2010, the pair become close and “cooked up a plan” to bring down the former MP, the court has been told.
The story of the point-swapping appeared first in the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday and sparked a police investigation that led to Huhne stepping down from the Cabinet when he was charged. He pleaded guilty earlier this month and stepped down as MP for Eastleigh. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Ms Pryce, 60, accepts that she took the points on behalf of her husband from a speeding offence on the M11 in 2003, but denies perverting the course of justice. She is claiming the defence of “marital coercion” and says that her ex-husband bullied her into accepting the points.
Following the arrest of Ms Pryce and her husband in 2011, Ms Briscoe gave police statements in the case but has not called as a witness in the case, Andrew Edis QC, for the prosecution told the jury of seven men and five women.
A statement by Detective Inspector Martin Passmore said that “during the investigation it became apparent that Ms Briscoe may have lied about her involvement with the press and that she denied having any contact with the Mail on Sunday or any other media organisation in relation to this story."
“Ms Pryce has not been arrested or interviewed in relation to that allegation. For this reason Ms Briscoe has been arrested and is currently under investigation by the police.
“Ms Briscoe could therefore no longer be relied upon as a witness of truth and on October 2, 2012 the Crown Prosecution Service took the decision not to call Ms Briscoe to give evidence in the case.”
The court was told on Monday that Ms Pryce and Ms Briscoe approached a freelance journalist, Andrew Alderson, who passed the story to the Mail on Sunday. The pair initially said that Huhne had passed his speeding points to a constituency aide, Jo White, to avoid implicating Ms Pryce in the crime, Mr Edis said. "Well of course that was a complete lie because the person who took points for Huhne when he had nine points was her [Pryce]," he continued.
A later email from Ms Briscoe to the Mail on Sunday in December 2010 explained that the "relevant person" had been “bullied and pressurised” into taking Huhne's points.
It said: "Finally, you will appreciate that I have no particular interest in this story save that I have been asked to act as an intermediary on behalf of the relevant person."
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