LONDON – Disgraced former British energy minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife were jailed Monday after a bitter saga of revenge that began with a driving offense and ended in adultery and the destruction of his political career.
A judge said that “any element of tragedy is entirely your own fault” as he sentenced Huhne, a onetime contender for the Liberal Democrat leadership, and ex-wife Vicky Pryce to eight months in prison each for perverting the course of justice.
Greek-born senior economist Pryce agreed in 2003 to take penalty points on her driving license that Huhne had incurred for speeding, in a bid to help her then-husband avoid a driving ban.
The crime would have gone undetected had Pryce not embarked on a quest for vengeance eight years later after he left her for a bisexual female campaign aide.
Sentencing the pair at Southwark Crown Court in London a decade to the day after the offense, Judge Nigel Sweeney told Huhne, 58, he had “fallen from a great height.”
Huhne pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing and the judge said he had reduced his sentence by 10 percent for that.
Pryce, 60, pleaded not guilty using the defense of marital coercion but was found guilty by a jury last week. An earlier trial had failed to reach a verdict.
The judge said Pryce had “an implacable desire for revenge,” adding that her not guilty plea showed she had a “controlling, manipulative and devious side.”
“You have both been brought to justice for your joint offense. Any element of tragedy is entirely your own fault,” he said.
The shamed former couple were side-by-side in the dock as they were sentenced.
Neither showed any emotion and, apart from a brief glance from Huhne toward his ex-wife, they made no contact with each other before they were taken down to start their prison terms.
Both will likely only serve four months behind bars.
In interviews recorded before the sentencing, Huhne said he was “sorry” for his deceit and for hurting his family.
“I certainly lied and lied again, and part of it was about saving my career but it was also partly to try and avoid the consequences for my family,” he told Britain’s Channel 4 News.
Prime Minister David Cameron, whose Conservative Party leads a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, said the sentencing was “a reminder that no one, however high and mighty, is out of the reach of the justice system.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who beat Huhne for the party leadership in 2007, called it a “personal tragedy,” a Liberal Democrat spokesman said.
The sentences were the climax to a sordid tale of revenge and family breakdown that played out in the courtroom during the trial.
Huhne abruptly left Pryce for his publicist, Carina Trimingham, shortly after the May 2010 general election that saw the centrist Liberal Democrats enter a coalition government with Prime Minister David Cameron’s center-right Conservatives.
Their affair was exposed in the News of the World, media baron Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct weekly tabloid.
Huhne broke the news to his wife of 26 years and mother of his three children during halftime of a World Cup football match. They divorced the following year.
Pryce apparently became obsessed with getting revenge on Huhne and the court heard that, with the help of a lawyer friend, she cooked up a plot to “nail” her ambitious ex-husband by revealing the speeding points scam.
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’s defense of coercion relied on arguments that he had pressured her to accept the points. She also told the trial that during their marriage he bullied her and demanded she have an abortion.
The toll the case had taken on their family was also revealed in painful detail during the trial.
It emerged that Huhne had become estranged from his son who harshly criticized him for what he had done in a series of searing texts. Pryce’s daughter from a previous marriage also backed her against Huhne.
Huhne resigned from the Cabinet last year to fight the allegations. He gave up his seat in Parliament on Feb. 5 after pleading guilty.
He now joins a hall of shame of jailed British politicians that includes former Conservative minister Jonathan Aitken, who was imprisoned for perjury in 1999, and former Conservative deputy chairman Jeffrey Archer, who was jailed for the same offense in 2001.