Pair Due In Court Over Investigation Into An Allegation Of Modern Day Slavery.
Chris Huhne And Ex-Wife Jailed For 8 Months
Former Eastleigh MP Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce have both been jailed for eight months over a speeding points scandal dating back a decade.
The former couple were handed the sentences at Southwark Crown Court for perverting the course of justice in 2003 when Pryce took speeding points for her then-husband.
Huhne, 58, pleaded guilty to the offence on the first day of his trial last month, and Pryce, 60, was convicted after a retrial last week.
Huhne, wearing a dark suit and tie, remained motionless as he became the first former Cabinet minister since Jonathan Aitken to be sent to prison.
Pryce, who wore a black jacket over a silver-grey top, also showed no emotion as she was sent to prison in front of a packed courtroom, which included Huhne's father and partner Carina Trimingham.
Sentencing them trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney said Huhne had lied ''again and again''.
He told Pryce she had a ''controlling, manipulative and devious side''.
And he told the former couple: ''To the extent that anything good has come out of this whole process, it is that now, finally, you have both been brought to justice for your joint offence. Any element of tragedy is entirely your own fault.''
The former couple sat four feet apart in the dock as the judge handed down their sentences.
He told Huhne he was somewhat more culpable for the offence.
''You have fallen from a great height albeit that that is only modest mitigation given that it is a height that you would never have achieved if you had not hidden your commission of such a serious offence in the first place,'' he said.
He told the former MP he had committed a ''flagrant offence'' of its type and said there were no exceptional circumstances.
Turning to Pryce, he told the economist she had been readily persuaded into taking points for her then-husband.
The Crown Prosecution Service is seeking to recover costs from both Huhne and Pryce, and the issue has been adjourned to a hearing at a later date.
The offence dates back to a decade ago tomorrow - when Huhne's black BMW was clocked speeding on the way back from Stansted Airport as the then-MEP travelled home from Strasbourg.
With nine points on his licence, he avoided a ban by asking Pryce to take the speeding points.
The offence only became public in May 2011 - nearly a year after Huhne left Pryce for PR adviser Ms Trimingham - as Pryce pursued a press campaign to ''nail'' her ex in revenge.
Pryce's trial heard how she first approached the Mail on Sunday falsely claiming he had passed points to a constituency aide, then revealed the story to Sunday Times political editor Isabel Oakeshott.
The scandal was revealed on May 8 2011 in the newspapers, prompting a police probe, and the former couple were charged last February - forcing Huhne to resign his Cabinet position.
The MP embarked on lengthy legal attempts to get his case dismissed but when they failed, he pleaded guilty on the first day of the trial on February 4.
During her trial mother-of-five Pryce adopted a defence of marital coercion, claiming Huhne had bullied her into taking the points.
She claimed Huhne prioritised his political ambitions throughout their marriage, and twice demanded she have an abortion because of the effect on his career. She told the court she managed to resist the second time, giving birth to their youngest child.
Opening the case against Huhne at today's sentencing, prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said he had ''resolutely'' denied what he knew to be true, while trying to get the case thrown out.
He said the prosecution case against Huhne would have relied on circumstantial evidence include phone calls recorded by Pryce and Ms Oakeshott, and text messages between the former MP and his son.
Mr Edis said Huhne showed ''selective amnesia'' in his police interviews, and told the court his attempts to get the case dismissed prompted a second police investigation and ''indefatigable efforts'' to find extra evidence, which he knew did not exist.
The court heard the cost of Huhne's prosecution was £79,015, while Pryce's was £38,544 - a total of £117,558.
The CPS is seeking to claim an extra £31,000 from Huhne, Mr Edis said, for costs incurred by his attempts to get the case thrown out and the extra police probe.
He said Huhne was a ''person who should not have been having a trial at all because he was guilty and was hoping to find evidence to undermine a witness on whose evidence - at least on this issue, who took the points - he knew perfectly well was true.
''It is not unfair to suggest that if that had succeeded the course of justice would in fact have been further perverted.''
Mr Edis added: ''In certain respects the conduct of his defence could properly be described as scandalous and a costs order could reflect that.''
Mitigating for Pryce, Julian Knowles QC asked for a suspended sentence or one as ''short as humanly possible''.
He said 60-year-old Pryce's ''distinguished career'' had been seriously undermined, and she had resigned from her position at a City consultancy firm after last week's guilty verdict.
''A person who is convicted early in their life has the rest of their life to work hard so that the conviction fades into history,'' he said.
''At Ms Pryce's age there may not be a huge number of opportunities open to her which will allow her to rebuild her career so that her conviction becomes part of her history.''
He said the mother-of-five had suffered a ''truly tragic personal life'' in the past few years, and ''very real distress, strain and stress''.
''No wife should have to suffer what she suffered,'' he added.
John Kelsey-Fry QC, for Huhne, told the court: ''In 2003 Mr Huhne did wrong, it was a serious wrong, a crime considered serious because it strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system.''
He said Huhne recognised that he would be going to prison and that he had ''only himself to blame''.
''They were his points, it was his idea to pass them to his then wife, and he persuaded her to do so when she was initially reluctant and he accepts that it was his fault.
''However, he did not force her, nor coerce her, nor bully her, nor was he overbearing.' '
He apologised on Huhne's behalf to his ''friends and family, colleagues, to his former constituents and most importantly to the court'' for not admitting the offence when it first came to light.
''The forgiving amongst us might recognise that in the 10 years since this offence Mr Huhne has of course achieved a great deal.''
He said even Huhne's political enemies accepted he was a ''dedicated, effective and hard-working'' MP, and a ''very good and effective minister''.
Huhne's denials were the product of a ''natural instinct'' , he said, adding: ''Nevertheless he ought to have set such emotions on one side and come clean and he did not until much later and for that he apologises to all.
''Some will say, no doubt, 'apologies are cheap', well in these circumstances they are not, actually,'' he said, saying the situation had had ''catastrophic'' consequences for the former MP.
He said some would have tried to ''brazen it out'', sparking a ''bloodbath'' of a trial, but suggested the judge ''may think his sense of decency prevailed and he fell on his sword''.
He said Huhne had maintained a dignified silence during Pryce's trials, but wanted to refute claims Pryce had made about abortions ''in the most strenuous terms''.
The court heard several references for the disgraced MP, including one constituent who dubbed him a ''true champion of the people'', as well as one from Lord Maclennan.
Mr Kelsey-Fry said: ''Mr Huhne has suffered the very direst of consequences for this aberrant behaviour 10 years ago.
''I hope I am not overstating it by saying nobody has ever lost more so publicly and suffered such vilification for an offence of perverting the course of justice by points swapping.''
Speaking outside Southwark Crown Court, Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge, head of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate which investigated Huhne and Pryce, said: ''Perverting the course of justice is a very serious criminal offence and I think that has been reflected this afternoon in the sentences handed out to Mr Huhne and Miss Pryce.
''I think this case acts as a very timely reminder for all those people who may be facing a driving ban and are thinking of passing their points on to others.
''It is not only unlawful but as you can see from today's events it leads to life-changing consequences.''
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg regards the jailing of former Cabinet colleague Chris Huhne as ''a personal tragedy'' for the ex-Energy Secretary and his wife, a spokesman said today.
Mr Clegg hopes that, once they have served their sentences, they will be given ''the time and space to rebuild their lives''.
Mr Huhne lost narrowly to Mr Clegg in the 2007 election for the Lib Dem leadership and was regarded as a possible successor until his guilty plea to perverting the course of justice.
Following today's sentencing, a spokesman for Mr Clegg said: ''As Nick has said, this is a personal tragedy for Chris, Vicky and their families.
''After their sentences are served, Nick hopes that they will both be given the time and space to rebuild their lives.''
Leaving their multi-million pound homes behind, Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce will find themselves at the heart of a riches-to-rags tale as they are both locked behind bars.
Huhne is likely to be taken to the ''Victorian hell hole'' Wandsworth Prison, in south-west London, while Pryce is expected to be taken to Holloway prison in north London.
When Huhne arrives at Wandsworth he will be placed in a large reception cubicle - effectively a giant cage - with around 50 other prisoners from across the south east.
He will then be taken through a humiliating induction procedure - he will be photographed, fingerprinted, strip-searched and subjected to ultra-sound searching.
Next up, the former MP will be issued a prison number before he is given the opportunity to make a telephone call and and then he will have a shower.
Huhne can forget about sharp suits and ties while he is doing time - he will be fitted with standard issue prison clothes - blue jeans and a blue and white shirt.
Mark Leech, ex-convict turned prisons expert and editor of inmates newspaper Converse, said Huhne will then be assessed by mental health teams and believes the MP will be deemed at risk to self-harm or even suicide and placed in the prison hospital.
Mr Leech said: ''He has fallen an incredible distance from grace in a very short space of time, until recently he was in complete denial of his offence and this is his first time in prison - as such he bears on his face all the classic hallmarks of a person susceptible to self-harm and suicide.''
After his mental health has been assessed as safe, he will be moved onto the main prison wing where he will share a cell with one or maybe two other prisoners.
Built in 1851, Wandsworth is the largest prison in the UK, currently able to hold 1,665 prisoners. The cells are 12-feet long and seven feet wide with a window high in the back wall and a toilet and washbasin behind a small modesty screen in the corner.
Huhne will have to leave fine-dining behind for now, as he is presented with typical Wandsworth grub, such as a stew dubbed the ''mystery bowl'' and a cup of a bitter tea known as ''diesel''.
Mr Leech expects Huhne to be mocked by his fellow prisoners and even by the prison staff - with jibes about his privileged background almost inevitable.
Mr Leech continued: ''Life as he has known it before today will never be the same again, its important to his safety that he doesn't put on airs and graces, he's a convict now, no different to anyone else in the prison and he needs to knuckle down, accept his fate and get on with progressing through the prison system.''
It is likely that Huhne will be considered as a category-D prisoner and transferred to an open prison within a month, Mr Leech said, where he will have access to education, outside work opportunities, town visits and home leaves.
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