Consider case afresh, Pryce retrial jury told

Vicky Pryce arriving at Southwark Crown Court on 25 February 2013
Image caption Ms Pryce denies perverting the course of justice

The jury at the retrial of ex-cabinet minister Chris Huhne's former wife Vicky Pryce has been told by the judge to listen to the case "afresh".

Mr Justice Sweeney discharged the jury at Southwark Crown Court last week after it was unable to reach a verdict.

The new jury must base its decision on evidence heard in court, he said.

Ms Pryce, 60, denies perverting the course of justice on a charge relating to speeding points she took for Huhne, saying he had coerced her in 2003.

Huhne has admitted the offence and is awaiting sentence. He resigned as the Lib Dem MP for Eastleigh in Hampshire after pleading guilty earlier this month.

After the second jury of seven men and five women was sworn in, Mr Justice Sweeney told them that their predecessor's failure to reach a verdict was "irrelevant".

The judge told them to put out of their minds anything they had learned of the first jury's failure to reach a verdict.

He said: "You judge the case afresh... only on the evidence that unfolds before you. The other jury's disagreement is irrelevant in this case."

'Fatal damage'

In opening the case, prosecutor Andrew Edis also made reference to last week's events, telling the jury: "It would be foolish for anyone to pretend that you are all entirely ignorant about the circumstances of this case. There is no such pretence.

"What we also urge you to do is to pay no heed at all to anything that you know about it up until now."

Mr Edis told the jury Huhne was caught speeding in his BMW on the M11 in Essex in March 2003 as he returned from Stansted airport to London.

He said the politician nominated his economist wife to take the points so he could avoid losing his licence and the pair "cheated the system".

Ms Pryce, of Clapham, south London, would be claiming a defence of marital coercion, he told the court.

For the jury to accept this, they would need to accept that her husband was present at the time and applied such pressure that she had no real choice, he said.

Mr Edis said Ms Pryce was a "woman who had spent her life making important choices both in her own case and even for other people too because she was a very influential person who had had a glittering career as an economist in banking" earning a six-figure sum.

He said: "Women such as her have proudly led the struggle for equality with men over decades... and here she is saying that she was unable to choose whether to commit a crime or not because a man, whether her husband or not, was telling her what she had to do."

Mr Edis said the offence came to light after Huhne confessed to an affair with PR adviser Carina Trimingham and the couple separated.

He said the end of Ms Pryce's marriage was "distressing, very upsetting" but "being the person that she is, a strong-minded, strong-willed person, it also caused her great anger and in the end led her to want to get revenge".

She spoke to Sunday Times political editor Isabel Oakeshott and the pair discussed how they could publish the story. The journalist suggested Ms Pryce could inflict "maximum and perhaps fatal damage" on Huhne.

In an email obtained by police, Ms Pryce had told her: "I have no doubt as I definitely want to nail him, more than ever actually".

Mr Edis said the points-swapping would not have come to light if Ms Pryce's "desire of vengeance had not overcome her better judgment".

'Impossible position'

Image caption Ms Oakeshott first heard about the points swap at a lunch meeting with Ms Pryce

Ms Oakeshott told the court she first met Ms Pryce at the Lib Dem conference in September 2010, and at a lunch meeting in March 2011 the points swap was revealed.

"She had made it fairly clear that she wanted the public voters to know about the true character of her husband who was, of course, in a very important and respected position as a member of the cabinet," Ms Oakeshott said.

Ms Pryce told the journalist she had been surprised to receive a letter from police saying she had been caught speeding.

"She explained that she was shocked to receive this communication because she knew that she had not been at the wheel of the car, in fact she had never had any penalty points, and a row then ensued with her husband.

"She had felt pressurised, pushed into taking these points and she felt that she was put in an impossible position."

Asked about the risk of Ms Pryce being arrested herself, Ms Oakeshott said the economist's "decision was that she would say 'no comment' to the police and hope that the storm would blow over".

A story was published in the Sunday Times in May 2011.

Ms Oakeshott added: "She seemed to me exceptionally fragile, although not so fragile that she didn't know precisely what she was doing in relation to her dealing with me over this story".

Ms Oakeshott described Huhne as "ferociously" ambitious, "an extremely clever individual, very very bold, very brazen, unafraid of anything".

The trial was adjourned until Tuesday.