Text messages between Chris Huhne and son reveal family split behind the speeding points scandal
Former Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister pleads guilty and resigns as an MP
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Monday 04 February 2013
Text messages emerged today revealing the extent of the breakdown in the relationship between Chris Huhne and his son.
The messages were read out in court as part of Chris Huhne’s ill-fated attempt to have the prosecution case against him thrown out.
It emerged today that Mr Huhne desperately tried to get his case thrown out before finally entering his 11th hour guilty plea.
The politician's legal team, led by top QC John Kelsey-Fry, sparked hours of legal argument with an application to get the case dismissed, as well as one to have the trial stayed because of an abuse of process.
Huhne had repeatedly denied the allegations, which first emerged through newspapers in 2011 - a year after he left Vicky Pryce for PR adviser Carina Trimingham, who worked on his Lib Dem leadership campaigns in 2006 and 2007.
The messages between Chris Huhne and his son Peter that were read out in court were:
PH: “We all know that you were driving and you put pressure on Mum. Accept it or face the consequences. You’ve told me that was the case. Or will this be another lie?”
CH: “I have no intention of sending Mum to Holloway Prison for three months. Dad.”
PH: “Are you going to accept your responsibility or do I have to contact the police and tell them what you told me?”
PH: “I don’t want to speak to you, you disgust me, f**k off.”
PH: “You are the most ghastly man I’ve ever known. Does it give you pleasure that you have lost almost all of your friends?”
PH: “You just don’t get it.”
CH: “Happy Christmas. I love you”
PH: “I hate you so f**k off.”
The messages emerged after Mr Huhne pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court to a charge of perverting the course of justice, which pre-empted his resignation as an MP this morning.
Mr Huhne announced that he is standing down as MP for Eastleigh in Hampshire, which will cause a by-election in a marginal seat he won with a majority of 3,864 over the Conservatives at the 2010 election.
The former energy secretary was due to stand trial alongside ex-wife Vicky Pryce on charges that he made her take speeding points on his behalf.
But the former Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister, dramatically changed his plea today by pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice over claims that his ex-wife Vicky Pryce took speeding points for him 10 years ago.
The former Energy and Climate Change Secretary stood down from the Cabinet a year ago and vowed to clear his name, promising to mount a “robust defence against the charges brought against me.”
But his trial at Southwark Crown Court took an unexpected twist this morning when he pleaded guilty.
Mr Huhne, 58, had been tipped for a return to the Cabinet if he had been acquitted of the charges, as his friends and allies had hoped. But today’s development puts a huge question mark over his career in frontline politics.
The maximum sentence for conspiring to pervert the course of justice is life imprisonment, although it often carries a penalty of several months in jail.
Only a week ago, the MP for Eastleigh entered a formal not guilty plea. But today John Kelsey-Fry, his QC, invited the court to put the charge to him again and he changed his plea.
His former wife Vicky Pryce denied a charge of perverting the course of justice.
Carina Trimingham, whom Huhne admitted having an affair with in 2010, ending his 26-year marriage to Pryce, was in the public gallery as he pleaded guilty to the perverting the course of justice charge.
The case against Mr Huhne stems from a speeding ticket issued after his car was clocked by a camera on the M11, traveling above the speed limit, heading from Stansted airport to London on March 12, 2003.
Mr Huhne stood with his hands clasped behind his back as he pleaded guilty to the charge. He sat two seats away from his ex-wife Vicky Pryce in the glass panelled box at Southwark crown court.
Granting Mr Huhne bail, Mr Justice Sweeney told the politician: ‘I will deal with your sentence on a date to be notified. It’s essential that you attend, obviously, on that date and as Mr Kelsey-Fry (his barrister) has foreshadowed you should have no illusion whatsoever as to the sort of sentence that you are likely to receive, understand?’
Mr Huhne nodded and his current partner, Carina Triningham, who was seated behind the dock dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. Mr Huhne left the court with an entourage to a private room within the court complex.
Asked if this meant the end of his political career, Mr Huhne waved his hand and declined to comment.
The decision to change his plea ends a year-long battle by Mr Huhne to clear his name after he was charged with perverting the course of justice following months of media speculation about his political future.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg indicated that he would like to see Mr Huhne return to a prominent role in British politics if he was cleared of the charges against him.
Mr Clegg, who narrowly defeated Mr Huhne to become Liberal Democrat leader in 2007, last month told reporters that the Eastleigh MP was one of the ‘big beasts’ of the party who ‘belongs at the top table of British politics.’
Huhne, 58, from Dutton Lane, Eastleigh, Hants, spoke clearly as he said "guilty" when asked how he pleaded.
It had been alleged that economist Vicky Pryce took the points instead of the former energy secretary, who stood down from the Cabinet after he was charged last year, so he could avoid prosecution.
He had vowed to fight the charges and last week pleaded not guilty, but changed his plea today, admitting to doing an act tending or intending to pervert the course of justice between March 12 2003 and May 21 2003 relating to the speeding offence.
The events which led to the charges date back to March 2003 when Huhne's car was allegedly caught by a speed camera on the motorway between Stansted Airport in Essex and London.
The allegations emerged in 2011 after Huhne's 26-year-old marriage to Pryce had ended when he admitted an affair with PR adviser Ms Trimingham.
Speaking outside the court, Mr Huhne told journalists: “I have pleaded guilty today. I am unable to say more while there is an outstanding trial. But having taken responsibility for something which happened 10 years ago, the only proper course of action for me is now to resign my Eastleigh seat in Parliament, which I will do very shortly. That is all I am able to say today.”
Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg said he was "shocked and saddened'' by Chris Huhne's guilty plea but said he had "taken the right decision in resigning as an MP''.
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