British ex-minister faces jail after guilty plea

Mon Feb 4, 2013 10:35am EST
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By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) - Former British energy secretary Chris Huhne faces time behind bars after pleading guilty on Monday to perverting the course of justice by asking his then wife in 2003 to accept a penalty for a speeding offence he had committed.

A senior member of the Liberal Democrats, the smaller party in Britain's ruling coalition, Huhne, 58, entered his guilty plea on the morning his trial had been due to start at London's Southwark Crown Court.

It was a dramatic change of tack after he had spent months fighting a costly legal battle to have the charge against him dropped. After losing that battle a week ago, Huhne had initially pleaded not guilty to the offence.

Huhne had resigned from his cabinet post when he was charged in February 2012. Shortly after Monday's plea, he said on the steps of the courthouse that he would now also leave parliament.

"Having taken responsibility for something which happened 10 years ago the only proper course of action for me is now to resign my Eastleigh seat in parliament," he told reporters.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who narrowly defeated Huhne to become the Liberal Democrat leader in 2007, said he was "shocked and saddened" by Huhne's guilty plea.

Huhne had still been seen by some members as a possible successor to Clegg until Monday's news.

Huhne had been supposed to face trial before a jury alongside his estranged ex-wife, economist Vicky Pryce, who pleaded not guilty last year to a charge of perverting the course of justice connected to the same 2003 speeding offence.   Continued...

Former British energy secretary Chris Huhne speaks to the media, outside Southwark Crown Court in central London February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Olivia Harris (BRITAIN)