Vicky Pryce is a strong-minded and manipulative woman who revealed her ex-husband Chris Huhne's lies about a 2003 speeding fine in an act of revenge when he left her for a younger woman, a court heard.
Ms Pryce, 60, tipped off a newspaper in an attempt to "nail" her former husband and destroy his career over the "very bad way" that he treated her when he ended the couple's 26-year marriage in 2010 following an affair with his aide Carina Trimingham, Southwark Crown Court heard.
The highly regarded economist sought to trick her husband into a confession in four taped telephone calls designed to back up her story to allow publication of the scandal in a Sunday newspaper, the jury heard. In a series of highly charged calls – in which she refers to Huhne's bisexual partner as "your f****** man" – Ms Pryce denies ever contacting the media yet repeatedly presses Huhne to confess to making her take his penalty points for speeding.
During the recordings – described by Andrew Edis, QC, for the prosecution, as "two manipulative people trying unsuccessfully to manipulate each other" – Huhne steadfastly denies having asked her to take his penalty points. At one point, he accuses her of acting in an "entirely unbalanced way".
Huhne, 58, tells his ex-wife and her friends to stop telling "ridiculous stories" to the media and says that articles about the penalty points will not appear if they don't talk to reporters.
Ms Pryce responds: "Why would I tell anyone about me taking your points. It's not in my interests. Are you a moron?"
She adds in a later recorded call: "I cannot just lie 'cause the last thing I want is for it to come out and I've actually perjured myself or whatever the f*** it is that you do."
Huhne, who has admitted perverting the course of justice, had falsely claimed that his wife was driving his black BMW, with its personalised registration plate of H11HNE, to avoid racking up 12 penalty points and being banned from driving.
He is currently on bail and faces a prison sentence, while the trial of his ex-wife started. She accepts that she took the points on her husband's behalf but denies the same charge, claiming that she was coerced by the former Energy Secretary into accepting the points.
The court heard that Ms Pryce started plotting her husband's downfall in 2010 and was in contact with two newspapers over the story. Isabel Oakeshott, the political editor of The Sunday Times, encouraged Ms Pryce, saying she could inflict "maximum and perhaps fatal damage to Chris" if she told the story of the swapped points over two weeks in the newspaper.
In emails obtained by the prosecution from March 2011, Ms Oakeshott told Ms Pryce: "It achieves your dual objective of bringing Chris down, if we can, without seriously damaging your own reputation in the process."
In follow-up emails, Ms Pryce sought reassurance that the story would bring down her ex-husband although she wanted the articles to focus on the "political wife" and the glass ceiling, with the revelations about Huhne coming out in "snippets".
She added: "I definitely want to nail him more than ever, actually, and would love to do it soon."
Ms Oakeshott then warned of the minor risk that Ms Pryce herself could face prosecution and said she would speak to her lawyers.
She also said: "I think you could make yourself out to be very much the honourable one saying it has been on your conscience… You knew it was wrong but you were bullied into it… That would make you sound pretty good."
Mr Edis, opening the case for the prosecution, told the jury of eight women and four men that they would have to decide whether she was a "strong-minded and manipulative woman" or whether she could be a victim of "marital coercion".
He asked if it was conceivable that Ms Pryce could be put in a position in 21st century Britain where she was unable to make an independent decision.
Mr Edis said that she had agreed to "play ball" with her husband when he was initially caught by the speed camera and the offence was unreported for years. The high-profile economist was a "clever, subtle" woman who tried to bring maximum damage to her husband while she trying to protect herself from prosecution after the break-up of her marriage, Mr Edis said. The marriage came to an end in "horrible circumstances" and no ties of loyalty remained.
"She was distressed but also angry and she wanted some revenge," the prosecutor said. "He did resign, he pleaded guilty, he is not a cabinet minister any more – so the plan worked."
The case continues.
The tapes: 'You know full well I took your points'
The jury yesterday heard four phone calls taped by Vicky Pryce (VP) in an apparent attempt to trap her husband into a confession. The following are extracts from 27 minutes of secret recordings between Chris Huhne (CH) and Ms Pryce.
Huhne advises his wife not to speak to the press she says are camped outside her door:
VP: There are people outside wanting to know what happened re you making me take the points.
CH: Can I suggest that if you want to avoid journalists doorstepping you, you stop telling ridiculous stories to the press and that's a very sensible thing.
Ms Pryce responds angrily to suggestions that she made up stories about her taking the points:
VP: Why would I tell anyone about me taking your points? It's not in my interest. Are you a moron?
CH: Well all I suggest is it's not in anybody's interest that you should tell nonsense to the papers and I think you should be very cautious about it.
VP: Excuse me what is nonsense? That they [the media] are out there and I might go and tell them nonsense. Can you explain to me what you mean by nonsense? You know full well I took your points.
Huhne denies ever taking the points:
VP: They [the media] are there and if you like me to I can go and tell them the truth, would you like me to?
CH: You can do whatever you like, but all I'm saying is I'm going to tell them the truth which is of course that I absolutely deny that you ever took the points for me.
VP: You're gonna tell them you deny that I've ever taken your points when somebody clearly told them that I had? When I had absolutely nothing to do with it? Who the f*** told them this? It's my reputation that's on the line just as much as yours, can you explain to me who the f*** told them this?
Huhne claims that she is out to destroy his career:
CH: I will tell them the truth which is you have been maliciously briefing the press because you told me that you wanted to ruin my political career.
VP: Really, when did I tell you I wanted to ruin your political career? When?
CH: Absolutely fine, I know what you're up to.
VP: Chris would you like me to tell them that you told me you wanted me to lose my job and you threatened me?
CH: I... absolutely not true.
VP: You said to me when we met at the coffee shop, you said to me that you were going to, that I would lose my job because of these supposed stories that are out there about you. You also threatened me to come back.
CH: You are behaving in an entirely unbalanced way.
Ms Pryce bemoans the downfall of their relationship.
VP: We used to be husband and wife, I took your points, you know that full well. I am prepared though to lie for you as I have done all along, but they are pressurising me all the f***ing time, I can't even get home without having people outside my f***ing door whether it's to do with your f***ing man or whether it's to do with your f***ing points, and it's got nothing to do with me.
Huhne on the tactics of the media.
CH: When the [media] ring up and they say we have it on very good authority, we're going to run this story, yeah crap, all that means is that they are fishing for someone to stand it up and if you don't give them any comment they won't, they can't run it, there's no story here so all you've gotta do, if you want to stay out of papers
VP: You want me to just lie to people basically, like you have done continuously?
CH: You do not have to, anyway you have told various lies to the papers.
VP: Like what? Give me one.
CH: I have a Saturday to get on with, it's entirely up to you what you do. I think you're intelligent enough to work out if you don't want to get into the papers you don't tell them.
VP: Don't be ridiculous, you're the one who lies.
CH: No, bye.
Huhne warns Ms Pryce of the dan- gers of speaking out about the story.
CH: There is no way, look, there is no way that there is any evidence of this story unless you decide to give some legs to it by saying something, OK?
VP: I just cannot lie 'cause the last thing I want is for it to come out and I've actually perjured myself or whatever the f*** it is that you do.
CH: There's no question of that, OK? The last thing you want to do is have some half-baked story running in The Sunday Times alleging that you've taken points for me and then you find that you're being rung up by the DVLC [DVLA] and getting a policeman asking whether you've actually broken the law.