11 Mar 2013

Chris Huhne: It got out of hand

Chris Huhne‘s central expectation of  his sentence was six months – he thought it could be up to nine months, might just be down to three months if he was lucky. In the end it was eight months jail and he will serve no more than four months and very likely less.

Before sentencing, I interviewed Chris Huhne at his central London home. Chris Huhne briefly looked mildly grumpy as a snapper took his photo on the doorstep. But once we were inside his 18th-century home he was his normal, somewhat extraordinary self. He was eerily calm, occasionally light-hearted.

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The cameraman asked what he’d had for breakfast as part of a sound check. “Porridge,” Chris Huhne replied. He smiled as I caught his eye acknowledging the dual meaning of that term.

Chris Huhne admitted in the interview: “I certainly lied and lied again, and part of it was about saving my career” – though he went on to say that he was also trying to save his family from the ordeal of court.

He said the main reason for giving the interview was because he wanted to say “sorry to my family, friends, colleagues and constituents. Very clearly I should not have swapped points with my ex-wife.” He went on: “We all, I think to get through life, have some experience of, occasionally, what people call ‘white lies.'” Chris Huhne says his original mistake was seeing passing on the speeding points in the same light as a speeding offence, which he calls “a relatively minor infringement”. After that “it gets out of hand,” Chris Huhne says, “it tends to spiral out.”

Read more: Chris Huhne – I lied and lied again

I asked how Chris Huhne now viewed his ex-wife. “I certainly understand the hurt that attached to the way in which our relationship broke up… that was awful… all of that was deeply shocking for somebody who’s a deeply private person and that, I think, explains a lot of what’s gone on.”

He categorically denied Vicky Pryce’s claim that they’d had a bullying relationship. I asked him about the brutal texts from his son which depicted a collapsed relationship. Mr Huhne said he hoped that “the process of healing in relationships (in the family) … will proceed, now that this is slowly getting behind us”.

He said: “I think the worst thing for any children if they’re involved in a divorce, is to see their parents being awful about each other.” He suggested that Vicky Pryce’s decision to pursue him had unintended consequences for her and their children: “I don’t think there was a full understanding of the effect all this was likely to have on the family, not just in terms of my career and potentially the career of my ex-wife as well, but also on any money that might have been put aside for the kids, to them on the housing ladder or whatever it happens to be.”

Mr Huhne said he’d visited many prisons when he was Lib Dem home affairs spokesman and he’d even been detained in prison on remand for some days after a car accident on holiday in Greece some years  ago – “cars seem to have a place in my life,” he said with a slight smile.

Chris Huhne said that there was no question that his political career was behind him but he couldn’t resist thanking people who’d helped him in his work to “save the planet”. He sounded like a man who was still in political mode, still in the aftermath of a family and personal tragedy trying to salvage something of his reputation. He said he hoped to start another career, his fourth, when he emerges from prison – quite what it would be he said he didn’t know but he’d have plenty of time to think about it in prison.

As well as praising Chris Huhne from the podium at this weekend’s Lib Dem spring conference in Brighton, Nick Clegg made direct contact with Chris Huhne a week ago just after the Eastleigh by-election. Mr Clegg sent Mr Huhne a text saying that the voters on the doorstep showed a real affection for Chris Huhne and that his work as an MP had helped the party hold on to the seat. Had there been any other contact from the leader, I asked Huhne. None, he said, smiling.

Mr Huhne says he hopes that sentencing could start some kind of healing process with his family but there is scant sign of it. Police took his son Peter’s phone and the CPS showed the court his text exchanges with his father – an excruciating insight into a collapsed relationship. Mr Huhne talks of the court process putting family relations “under strain.”

There is a zen-like quality to Chris Huhne as if he was coated at birth in the stuff they use on space shuttles. When I met him to ask for his last words before disappearing behind the prison door there was no sign of any cracked tiles. He was off on another of life’s phases, to be followed by another career – he would, he said, “hope for the best”.

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