UK Politics

Huhne: Speeding story was 'payback' for criticism of Murdoch press

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Media captionChris Huhne: "Grooming is not an unfair word"

Former MP Chris Huhne, who was jailed for lying about a driving offence, has claimed the newspaper investigation that led to his downfall was "payback" for his stance towards Rupert Murdoch.

He told the BBC it was no coincidence that the story appeared in the Sunday Times after he had called for police to reopen its phone-hacking probe.

While accepting he was "fair game", he spoke of an "agenda" behind the story.

The newspaper said the ex-minister's arguments were "bizarre".

Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens said the newspaper "had pursued a legitimate story of considerable public interest".

Huhne and ex-wife Vicky Pryce were convicted of perverting the course of justice in February after she took speeding points for him. They both served two months of an eight-month sentence before being released in May.

Huhne, who is now writing a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he took responsibility for his mistakes and was contrite for doing things which were "clearly wrong".

But he suggested he had a "rather unique vantage point" to make a wider point about the power of the media.

He claimed the 2011 Sunday Times story which prompted police to open an investigation into claims that he had dodged speeding points when he was an MEP in 2003 was not "straight journalism" and was motivated by other factors.

'Clear implications'

He said journalists within News International, the company that published the Sunday Times and the News of the World, were aware before the 2010 election about the breakdown of his marriage - which led to allegations about the speeding offence emerging - but "sat on the story" until it suited their proprietor's commercial and political interests.

"The way this was specifically done was a very clear payback for the fact, as a former journalist, I was not able to resist going public on how the police should reopen the investigation into voicemail hacking and the Murdoch press.

"I was the only frontbencher to do that. Maybe it was coincidence but it was just at that time that not only did the News of the World voicemail-hack me but put a full-time investigator on to tailing me.

"The very clear implication here by the coincidence of when the investigation starts, the fact that the story is not run until substantially later suggests there is another agenda.

"It is not straight journalism. It is about the Murdoch press using the power it has to pursue Rupert Murdoch's own business interests."

'Political influence'

Huhne, who worked for the Guardian and the Independent before going into politics, was also critical of News Corp's attempt to buy the remaining shares of BSkyB that it did not already own in 2011 - a bid which was subsequently dropped.

"Over many, many years, he (Rupert Murdoch) has played the person rather than the issue and he has used that political influence to bulldoze away for his business interests," he added.

"Every time he has used his political power to get something he wants for the business, he has become more powerful and difficult to resist."

Huhne quit the Cabinet after being charged in 2011 but continued to protest his innocence until the first day of his trial when he changed his plea and admitted his guilt. He then stood down as an MP.

'Act like Profumo'

Asked about Huhne's remarks, the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said "uncovering wrongdoing where it takes place and uncovering the truth where it is not revealed" was part of the "great tradition" of British newspapers.

"That is his opinion. Is that exactly my opinion? No it isn't because we are different people," he said - adding that he believed Huhne was trying to make a wider point about trust in British institutions in general.

Speaking at a press conference in London, the deputy prime minister said he would "keep up" with Huhne - who he said he had known for years - but joked that he was not his "literary agent" and did not believe his former colleague planned any political comeback.

Labour MP Diane Abbott advised Huhne to follow the example of former Conservative minister John Profumo - forced to resign from the government in 1963 after lying to Parliament about his affair with Christine Keeler - by embarking upon some "quiet good works and a long period of reflection".

"He broke the law. That is why he went to prison. Rupert Murdoch is a separate issue," she told the BBC's Daily Politics.

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