Vicky Pryce guilty: Liberal Democrats 'knew that Chris Huhne had broken law months before it became public'

 

Crime Correspondent

The Liberal Democrats were gathering for their spring conference today as the party became embroiled in new allegations of a cover-up after emails claimed that senior figures were told privately that the former Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne had broken the law months before his speeding point swapping allegations became public.

Huhne’s ex-wife Vicky Pryce claimed to have told Nick Clegg’s wife Miriam, two senior Lib Dem politicians and Clegg aides that the former Energy Secretary had illegally evaded a driving ban nearly a decade earlier while he was campaigning for his first Westminster seat.

Pryce, a former government economist, informed a “horrified” Vince Cable, once her boss as Business Secretary, and Lord (Matthew) Oakeshott, the party’s former Treasury spokesman, according to emails that can be published after Pryce was today found guilty of perverting the course of justice for taking her husband’s penalty points.

The verdict marks the low point for a once-glittering couple brought down by lies, overwhelming ambition, infidelity and a thirst for revenge that has torn their family apart and is likely to end with both being jailed. The trial judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, told a visibly-shocked Pryce of the “inevitable consequences” of such a conviction.

Emails between Pryce and a journalist detailed her determined two-pronged strategy to take revenge on the man who left her after 26 years of marriage for his press adviser Carina Trimingham by leaking the story both to newspapers and his most influential party colleagues.

The party now faces demands to reveal what they knew and when about the allegations against Mr Huhne and what action they took. But Mr Clegg and the other Lib Dems dispute Pryce’s version of events, insisting that they were not told about Mr Huhne’s behaviour.

Pryce’s claim is a fresh headache for the Lib Dems after Mr Clegg and other officials repeatedly changed their stories over Lord Rennard, the party’s former chief executive, who is subject to an internal inquiry over allegations that he sexually harassed women party activists, which he denies. Despite damaging claims of a cover-up and inaction, the party last week retained Huhne’s former seat of Eastleigh in a by-election that saw their Conservative coalition partners pushed into third place.

The extent of the Lib Dems’ apparent knowledge of Huhne’s crime was apparently laid out on April 26, 2011, less than two weeks before The Sunday Times first wrote about the point-swapping saga. The stories sparked a police inquiry and Huhne’s eventual resignation from the Cabinet nine months later.

In an email to Pryce, the paper’s political editor Isabel Oakeshott wrote: “Can I say that a number of CH’s (Chris Huhne’s) “allies,” including Cable, are aware of the situation? To what extent is Clegg aware that something is hanging over Huhne? (you mentioned it to Miriam (Nick Clegg’s wife), didn’t you?)”

Within 45 minutes, Pryce shot back: “Yes, I have told VC, MiriamC, MOak (Lord Oakeshott)…. and a few other Lib Dem Lords and others working close to NC (Nick Clegg). V”

Pryce revealed that she told the Business Secretary two months before the story first broke. He remained her close ally after the break-up of the Huhne-Pryce marriage in 2010 and she accompanied him to his first speech as a Minister to the party’s conference.

In an email to Ms Oakeshott dated April 9, 2011 – a month before the story first appeared – Pryce wrote: “Actually I had told Vince (Cable) and Rachel (his wife) about points before when the three of us were having supper about a month ago – they were horrified at the time but VC (Cable) has probably forgotten it now. He was v. tired that night.”

Nine days later, Pryce revealed that she was having lunch with Nick Clegg’s wife the following day and asked whether she should hint at the story. “I told Vince there is something hanging over him and he wanted to tell Clegg,” she wrote. “I can say am being pestered by the press about something he did which CT (Carina Trimingham) let slip and which I know is true but have been protecting him so far but he has been such a shit not sure I can do it any longer. I am inclined to chance it but not disclose what it is.”

Pryce first met Ms Oakeshott at the 2010 Liberal Democrat party conference following the breakup of her marriage. They regularly exchanged emails after March 1 the following year after they had lunch together at Christopher’s, an American restaurant Christopher’s in London’s Covent Garden, and Pryce quietly told the journalist about the point swapping.

With little in the way of corroborating evidence, Pryce came up with the idea of recording her husband to try to secure a confession. March 3, 2011, Isabel Oakeshott wrote to Pryce saying what the likely outcome would be. “Clegg would probably secretly be gleeful, so wouldn’t rescue him; and Cameron fairly indifferent,” she wrote.

Ms Oakeshott – a distant relative of Lord Oakeshott, a Liberal Democrat grandee who once helped run the Huhne leadership campaign - sent a “cod text” to the Energy Secretary suggesting that the media were not pursuing the story to try to get him to drop his guard during the phone calls but Huhne did not incriminate himself.

In pages of emails between the two women seen by the jury, Pryce raises the prospect of telling Clegg or his close associates that papers are on to Huhne in the hope that Clegg would “ease him out” because he did not want any more scandals.

On the eve of publication at 8.20am on May 7, Ms Oakeshott wrote an email: “What do you think about (you) warning Nick or Miriam about this story and telling them it’s true?? Anything to be gained from doing that, or not? Obviously we haven’t told CH (Huhne) yet that he’s about to find himself at the centre of a shit storm, but we’ll need to do that later today.”

Pryce replied back within the hour saying that she needed to “think when and if to tell them”. A day later, the storm duly arrived.

Mr Clegg’s wife Miriam said: “I have never ever been told by Vicky or anybody else about the traffic points story. I got to know about this when everybody else did.“

A spokeswoman for Mr Cable said:  “Vince and Rachel [his wife] have no recollection of the issue of points being raised with them over the course of dinner with Vicky Price on 28 January 2011. They have consulted their personal records which confirm that the issue first came to their attention in May 2011 when the story broke in the press.”

Lord Oakeshott said: “Vicky must have been under a lot of pressure but I’m sure she never raised the question of points with me.”

Lib Dem insiders say that Pryce may have made general remarks about an action committed by her former husband that would damage him but insist that she did not give any details.

One source said that even if Mr Clegg had known about the speeding incident and confronted Mr Huhne, the former Energy Secretary was denying the allegation at the time and Lib Dem leader would have had to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Further reading

The e-mails between Vicky Pryce and Sunday Times reporter Isabel Oakeshott

The campaign by vengeful wife and 'batty' barrister

Trial laid bare strains in Huhne household

The ups and downs of the ultimate power couple

Marital coercion - a defence that faces major change

Debate: Is accepting points, as Vicky Pryce did, par for the course in a loving marriage?

Do you have any sympathy for Vicky Pryce?

Vicky Pryce, Chris Huhne and why this was not a criminal trial, but a divorce case by proxy

Judge praises jury for 'assiduously performing duties' after embarrassment of first trial

News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?