British Politician and Ex-Wife Sentenced to Prison

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LONDON -- A sensational trial that featured a leading politician who had an extramarital affair, a speeding ticket, his now-divorced wife and her decision to punish him, ended on Monday with a judge sending both of them to prison.

At Southwark crown court in London, the judge, Sir Nigel Sweeney, sentenced the two defendants -- Chris Huhne, 58, formerly the energy minister in Prime Minister David Cameron's cabinet, and Vicky Pryce, 60, a prominent economist -- to eight months in prison for perverting the course of justice. The court found that to protect his political career, the couple had lied about who was driving in 2003 when traffic cameras clocked their car moving at 69 miles per hour on a suburban road with a posted speed limit of 50 m.p.h., a deception that Ms. Pryce later revealed to embarrass Mr. Huhne.

Both had initially pleaded not guilty, but Mr. Huhne changed his plea to guilty on the morning his trial began last month. Ms. Pryce maintained that she had acted under "marital coercion" and underwent two trials in quick succession; the first ended with a hung jury, the second with a unanimous verdict for conviction last week. Despite the different pleas, both defendants received the same sentence of eight months. They were taken immediately to prison from the court; each is expected to serve about four months before being paroled.

The judge said he had found Mr. Huhne "slightly, but not greatly, more culpable" in the affair because he initiated the deception over who was driving.

When Mr. Huhne resigned from the Cameron government last year to fight the case, it was the first time in modern British history that a cabinet minister had been forced from office by a criminal prosecution. His fall captured headlines for months with its high-octane mix of ambition, betrayal, deceit and revenge.

"Any element of tragedy is entirely your own fault," the judge told the two in court on Monday.

To many in Britain, Mr. Huhne and Ms. Pryce had seemed like the archetypal power couple -- he an Oxford-educated former financial journalist with The Guardian and The Economist, who reaped a fortune by founding and then selling a financial consultancy business and then set out to climb to the pinnacle of politics; she a London School of Economics graduate who became joint head of the Government Economic Service, while raising five children, three of them from her marriage to Mr. Huhne.

But the couple's hopes collapsed, ultimately, over a subterfuge that the police in Britain say is adopted by tens of thousands of motorists every year.

The trial turned on conflicting accounts of how she came to accept the speeding citation in Mr. Huhne's stead. Had she done it under pressure from Mr. Huhne, feeling compelled to comply to protect her family, as her defense maintained at trial? Or was she a willing conspirator, as the prosecution alleged?

What appeared to have doomed Ms. Pryce's hopes for acquittal was prosecution evidence showing that she had done nothing to expose the ticket-switch subterfuge, which saved Mr. Huhne from losing his driver's license, for nearly seven years, until reports surfaced that Mr. Huhne had had an affair with a political aide.

After nursing her fury over the affair for much of the next year, Ms. Pryce told two newspapers about the ticket switch, apparently relying on assurances from an editor that doing so would harm Mr. Huhne's reputation at little or no risk to herself, according to evidence presented at trial.

"From a purely personal view, Vicky Pryce would have done well to heed the old Chinese proverb saying, 'Before you set off on revenge, dig two graves,' " David Dangoor, a prominent marketing executive, wrote in a letter published Monday in The Times of London.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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