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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20 reader comments

  1. Frances Mannion says:

    This prosecution seems vindictive. While they technically did pervert the course of justice, did this prosection truly serve the public interest?? They were both emotionally out of control and surely the courts have better use of their time and resources. If they were trying to make an example of them, doubt it truly served any useful purpose. Believe most decent people will just think this smacks of a determined effort to get them because of their political background. Pity they CPS couldn’t have been as determined with the Saville case.

    1. Ken Haylock says:

      I think one thing that has been missed is that in addition to the hypocrisy of being a lawmaker who perverted the laws he purported to make,there was the additional hypocrisy that he made a large part of his fortune from his shareholding in… a speed camera manufacturer. And if anybody benefits from the forest of speed cameras blighting the land and photographing motorists, it’s shareholders in speed camera companies. So, the biter bit in two ways that perhaps Joe average swapping points with his missus so he doesn’t lose his job and the family home couldn’t be accused of…

    2. Peter Tyler says:

      What utter drivel. This is an argument for an ‘us and them’ society in which ‘top’ people don’t have to stand trial or otherwise answer for their misdemeanours. Somebody once said ‘only little people pay taxes’ -happily she found out to her cost that this is not so!!

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  2. Philip Bradshaw says:

    What a pity you didn’t ask him why the loss of his licence would have affected his job! Would it really? Doubtful.

  3. M Webb says:

    What a tame interview with Huhne are we sorry form him … no you missed the vital questions.. ‘ are you only sorry because you got caught’

  4. Bennie says:

    Has anyone yet determined exactly how much extra money that Chris Hulne [and Vicky Pryce] benefitted from in salary, expenses, pension credits, shares, and any other financial gain, as a result of telling lies – which enablied work to continue whilst this case was postponed time and time again, than if he had lost his job initially / immediately through being unable to drive, or through paying through the nose for a chauffeur both in hours, and out hf hours?
    Surely this sum should be repaid to the tax payer in full?
    How much is it?

  5. Paul Fletcher-Tomenius says:

    Hi Gary,
    I am sorry to say the extensive airtime you gave Huhne to show us all what a great guy he really is on C4 news was quite unjustified. How on earth can you justify this, while almost ignoring Vicky Price? This is a very odd form of gender discrimination.

    Let’s get this simple matter portrayed correctly. This was petty corruption by a public figure compounded by lying and total disrespect for his own family.

    Kind Regards,

    Paul & Birgitta Fletcher-Tomenius

  6. George Huthart says:

    A crazy waste of money. I do not think it was in public interest. Just 3 points…. Yet many MP’s happily claimed expenses with scant regard for decency. A sledge hammer to a walnut in my view.

  7. Chris Newton says:

    Chris Huhne rehabilitated by Channel 4. You have given far too much airtime to smarmy Chris Huhne, it’s obvious he is saying sorry as a p.r. exercise. It’s hard to believe that he was responsible for all this sorrow in the first place.What about Viki Pryce she is being scapegoated by the media. I feel the story about antibiotics was far more important than this.

  8. StuartM says:

    Why has nobody asked what “pay-off” he is going to get from the public purse. I believe MPs get a fabulous pay-off when they stop being an MP. Ministers undoubtedly get an even bigger pay-off. So, it appears that he steps down due to a situation that “concludes” with him going to prison – is he still getting the MP/minister pay-off ?

  9. Philip Edwards says:

    Gary,

    I really couldn’t care less about Huhne or Pryce. They got off lightly.

    You can bet if that had been some hapless working class couple they would have received a much worse sentence.

    As it stands, they could be out in less than sixteen weeks. What then? Newspaper garbage about “My Hell In Jail”?

  10. AJ says:

    I feel much safer now these two have been locked up.

    What scoundrels.

    The irony is, after so many years together, if this non-offence is the worst thing VP could dish out about CH then he probably is a pretty decent sort after all.

  11. Ray Turner says:

    A sorry tale from start to finish and Huhne/Pryce did wrong, but lets not lose sight that it was initially over a speeding offence, on a motorway. Its no big deal really, in the overall scheme of things. Happens all the time…

    Its also part of a marital dispute and is mixed-up with grubby politics, i.e. the national obsession with finding any excuse to get somebody scalp.

    Eight months is probably about right and I think it is appropriate that both parties got exactly the same sentence. That sends exactly the right message to the rest of the world.

    Hopefully we won’t see any more cases of this nature, as there’s clearly no advantage in anybody spilling the beans many years after the event. If you’re going to break the law in this way, its a secret between husband and wife that they’ll both have to take to the grave…

    Whilst the old adage that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” will probably always be true, if she’s previously been stupid enough to take speeding points for her husband, the only option available to her now is to keep her trap shut.

    And vice versa. I’m sure there are some blokes in the UK who will have taken speeding points for their…

  12. Mark says:

    I quite agree with Frances’ comment above. I also think that over the last few weeks there has been much public display of a particularly British brand of misogyny, as well as the usual gloating when people with talents and achievements – as well as money – are brought down for a comparatively minor legal infringement. I wish that some of these self-righteous columnists would be as open about their own private lives, and their personal faiings, as they are about those of people with far more responsibility and pressures than they have. I can’t agree with the judge that Chris Huhne has fallen from a great height since, as far as I can see, a life in British politics is a life lived in a sewer, and the only lesson that I’ve learned from the whole sorry drama is – don’t go near it with a barge pole. It comes to something when the likes of Isabel Oakeshott feel it is their right to pronounce via the national news whether or not the current Home Secretary, Teresa May, is prime ministerial material, as she did recently on the Sky News Press Preview. Having helped to ruin the career of one cabinet minister, she’s now setting about diminishing the prospects of another. Who does…

  13. Bodiccea says:

    I can understand why a minor lie (Blair & the war in iraq) sets you free when a major one, speed ticket, leads you into jail…

  14. Bog Creature says:

    The financial crisis 2008 was designed to bury plan S (sustainability) and launch the capitalist undemocratic claim on sustainability – plan A (austerity, absolute power (servitude, slavery)), passing power from the people in the form of wealth to the private elite or 1% of the earth’s population. The crisis was an action to defend plan O (ownership (monopolization of justice, standard of living, growth perception) and move plan A to plan C (capitalist control of communities, copyright ownership – sustaining complexity to divide and rule) to reinforce plan P (privatized prosperity, paedophile financial products) to maintain plan B (Best for the capitalist children in the village of the dammed private education survival of the fittest competition command structure ownership club hiding behind the facade, smoke and mirrors of public school).

    Plan B (Best for my Children) (BC) Tree of Life / Tree of Knowledge is fundamental to plan E (education/employment equality transparency to plan F (Freedom of moral growth equality awareness in the truth of choice)) fundamental to the Queen’s Common Wealth interpretation of Plan M (Moral compass copyright awareness individually and…

  15. VM says:

    I am disappointed that Channel 4 has spent so much energy on Huhne/Pryce. You expect the tabloids to go on and on and on about this sort of piffling story, but why Channel 4? It’s just bored media going after blood. Not least Channel 4, unfortunately. What has happened to you? You all look embarrassed, in fact, as if you know this is not really something for a grownup news programme to be wasting time over. What is to be gained by such indulgence in self-righteousness? It’s not good for the soul and certainly not good for the soul of Channel 4!

  16. Y.S. says:

    Perhaps we should have a regular confessions sessions held by your reporter with MP,s every week.

  17. Mark says:

    I agree with VM above that, in principle and practice, Channel 4 News should (and usually does) aim to offer news and analysis of a higher quality than elsewhere. However, this news ‘story’ has raised numerous issues of importance for all citizens in a supposedly just, reasonably free, and democratic society. E.g; Yesterday, on BBC Radio 4 News, the question was raised as to whether Ms Pryce had been treated unfairly by the media (and the justice system) because of her gender. A resounding “yes”, in my view. The number of great minds churning out the old chesnut of ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ is astonishing. I think Ms Pryce’s anger has been provoked by much more than ‘being scorned’. Moreover, is the man who throws acid into a woman’s face because she won’t marry him not an example of ‘the fury of a man scorned’? British upper class men, when “scorned” by women, often bottle up their fury, and express it otherwise: obstructive, manipulative, and dominating behaviour. The fury is still there, but it’s not so visible. So has there been misogynistic treatment of Ms Pryce? Definitely.

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