‘British press free to report what they want’: Clegg refuses to condemn newspapers that exposed Chris Huhne

Deputy Prime Minister refuses to be drawn into disgraced MP Chris Huhne’s tussle with Murdoch

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The Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader has defended the British press following Chris Huhne’s claims that he was conspired against by News International after speaking out about phone hacking in 2009.

Writing in The Guardian, Mr Hunhe claimed that News International and The Sunday Times “groomed” his ex-wife Vicky Pryce into telling them about the speeding points she had taken on his behalf. Mr Huhne said the paper’s actions were “a very clear payback for the fact that I... wasn't able to resist going public on how the police should reopen the investigation into voicemail hacking and the Murdoch press.”

At his monthly Whitehall news conference Mr Clegg, Mr Huhne’s former boss, told reporters: "Chris has to speak for himself."

He said: "All I can tell you is that is his opinion. Is it exactly my opinion? No it isn't because, guess what, we're different people. I'm not Chris's keeper."

He added: "Newspapers play an incredibly important role of keeping people in positions of authority and power on their toes, uncovering wrongdoing where that takes place, uncovering the truth where it is not revealed.”

Mr Clegg then praised “the great tradition of British journalism”, saying that the “rigorous, muscular” tone of UK reporting was a model emulated elsewhere in the world.

Pressed on whether the British press had been “fair” to Mr Huhne, the Liberal Democrat leader replied: “You are free to report on whatever you want.

Mr Huhne, the former Energy Minister, was the subject of a string of stories by newspapers, including the Murdoch-owned The Sunday Times and The News of the World, which revealed he had had an extramarital affair, and later that he had asked his then wife Vicky Pryce to take his speeding points to avoid losing his licence.

In March 2013 the Deputy Prime Minister called Huhne “a friend” and a “close colleague”, saying he planned to keep in touch with him after he had served his eight month sentence for perverting the course of justice.