UK minister's ex-wife guilty of obstructing justice

7th March 2013, Comments 0 comments

The ex-wife of Britain's disgraced former energy minister Chris Huhne was convicted of perverting the course of justice Thursday in a case that has placed the junior party in the coalition government under renewed scrutiny.

Vicky Pryce, a 60-year-old Greek-born economist, had claimed that her former husband had coerced her into taking speeding points on her licence for him in 2003 to help him avoid a driving ban.

Huhne, a one-time contender for the leadership of the Liberal Democrat party whose career has been destroyed by the case, admitted the same charge at an earlier hearing at Southwark Crown Court in London.

The pair both face possible prison terms when they are sentenced at a later date.

The verdict with its attendant tale of marital woe comes as the Liberal Democrats of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg face searching questions over their handling of another scandal.

Pryce stood open-mouthed in the dock as the jury unanimously found her guilty.

A jury in Pryce's original trial last month failed to reach a verdict after what a judge called deficiencies in their understanding, prompting a retrial.

Judge Nigel Sweeney said Pryce should be under "no illusions" about the likelihood of a stretch in prison despite the fact that he was granting her bail until sentencing.

"Miss Pryce is naturally very disappointed to have been convicted," her lawyer said in a statement read out to journalists outside the court, in which she also thanked her children and her friends for their support..

The charges relate to an incident in March 2003 when Huhne's black BMW car was caught by a speed camera as it travelled between Stansted Airport near London and the capital.

Pryce used the defence of marital coercion, claiming Huhne forced her to accept the points on her licence because he would have been banned from driving if he had taken them.

She told the trial that during their marriage he bullied her and demanded she have an abortion.

Huhne and Pryce went through a bitter divorce in 2011 after 26 years of marriage during which they had three children together. Huhne left her in 2010 for Carina Trimingham, a bisexual staff member on his general election campaign that same year.

The speeding points scam only came to light after Pryce and a lawyer friend cooked up what the trial heard was a plot to "nail" Huhne, the trial heard.

Allegations that Huhne passed speeding points to an unidentified person ran in two British newspapers in May 2011. Huhne and Pryce were both arrested and were charged with perverting the course of justice in February 2012.

Pryce received glowing references during the trial from people including the head of Britain's overseas intelligence service MI6, John Scarlett.

Huhne -- a former leadership candidate among the Liberal Democrats -- stood down from the cabinet last year to fight the allegations.

He resigned his seat in parliament on February 5 after pleading guilty.

The Liberal Democrats held the seat in Eastleigh, southeast England, in a by-election on February 28 in which the anti-EU UK Independence Party beat Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives into third place.

But emails that emerged during the trial also raised questions about how much senior Lib Dems knew about the Huhne allegations after Pryce said she had told some of them.

Business Secretary Vince Cable and Nick Clegg's wife Miriam both issued statements after Thursday's verdict denying any prior knowledge about the scandal.

Meanwhile the Lib Dems have been on the defensive over their handling of a separate scandal over allegations of sexual harassment made by female party workers against former Lib Dem chief executive Chris Rennard.

Clegg admitted last week that there had been "serious mistakes" in the way the party had dealt with the claims, but repeated his insistence that he was unaware of the Rennard claims until they emerged last month.


© 2013 AFP

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