Wife ruined Huhne's career over affair, court hears

Tue Feb 5, 2013 5:33pm GMT

Vicky Pryce, the ex-wife of Britain's former energy secretary Chris Huhne, arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Vicky Pryce, the ex-wife of Britain's former energy secretary Chris Huhne, arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London February 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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(Note strong language in paragraph 20)

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) - The wife of a British cabinet minister plotted with newspapers to wreck his career because she wanted revenge after he left her for another woman, a London court heard on Tuesday.

Vicky Pryce, 60, went on trial for perverting the course of justice over a 2003 incident in which she took the penalty for a speeding offence committed by her then husband, Liberal Democrat politician Chris Huhne, to allow him to avoid a driving ban.

Huhne, 58, pleaded guilty to a charge of perverting the course of justice on Monday in connection with the same events in 2003. He is likely to be sentenced to a term in jail.

Huhne resigned as energy secretary a year ago when he and Pryce were charged. He had been seen as a possible successor to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as Liberal Democrat party leader but his guilty plea has ruined his political career.

Huhne and Pryce, whose 26-year marriage ended in 2010 when he admitted to an affair, had been expected to stand trial together for falsely informing police in 2003 that she, not he, had been driving his car when it was flashed by a speed camera.

Pryce now faces trial alone. She has pleaded not guilty on the basis that she did take Huhne's penalty but was not to blame because he had used "marital coercion" to make her do it.

Prosecutor Andrew Edis rejected that, arguing that Pryce, an economist who held a senior civil service post at the time, was not a "weak-minded woman" who could be bullied.

Edis said the incident had come to light in 2010-2011 because Pryce had told the story to two newspapers, the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times, in the hope that they would publish articles that would destroy Huhne's ministerial career.

"There is no doubt at all that she was not only distressed but extremely angry and she wanted some revenge," Edis said.

He said Pryce was fully aware that she risked getting into trouble herself by making the 2003 story public as both of them had broken the law by lying to police about who was driving.

Edis said that Pryce had tried to get around this problem before anything was published by holding detailed discussions with Isabel Oakeshott, a journalist at the Sunday Times.

"FATAL DAMAGE"

He read out to the jury an email from March 2011 in which Oakeshott suggested ways of "inflicting maximum and perhaps fatal damage on Chris" and referred to Pryce's "dual objectives of bringing Chris down, if you can, without seriously damaging your own reputation in the process".

Pryce responded in a similar vein: "I have no doubt as I definitely want to nail him. More than ever, actually, and I would love to do it soon."

Edis told the court that around April 2011, Pryce with help from Oakeshott had covertly recorded four telephone calls between herself and Huhne in a "set-up" to try and obtain a taped admission from him so the story could be published.

Edis said this showed Pryce was a "strong-minded, manipulative woman", an unlikely victim of marital coercion.

In the calls, which were played out in court, a furious Pryce repeatedly told Huhne that he knew she had taken his speeding penalty. Huhne denied this and accused her of telling "ridiculous stories" and "maliciously briefing" the newspapers.

She insulted his new partner Carina Trimingham, referring to her as "that man of yours". Trimingham is bisexual.

"They (journalists) are pressurising me all the fucking time. I can't even get home without having people outside my fucking door whether it's to do with your fucking man or whether it's to do with your fucking points," Pryce shouted.

Edis told the jury that the calls showed "two manipulative people trying unsuccessfully to manipulate each other".

The trial continues on Thursday.

(Reporting By Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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