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Speeding ticket, lies and a mistress: Powerful UK politician turns jailbird

Justin Tallis / AFP - Getty Images

Former British energy minister Chris Huhne comes into contact with a photographer's lens as he arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London on Monday.

LONDON — A disgraced former British politician was sentenced to eight months in jail by a London court on Monday, after he admitted to lying about a speeding ticket in order to keep his driver's license in a scandal that revealed salacious details of his personal life.

After two years of vigorous denials, former energy secretary Chris Huhne pleaded guilty last month to perverting the course of justice, saying he persuaded his then-wife, Vicky Pryce, to accept penalty points on her license for his own speeding offense in 2003. She was also sentenced to eight months for accepting the penalty points.

Sentencing them, trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney said Huhne had lied "again and again".

He told Huhne: "You have fallen from a great height..." adding that Huhne would never have reached that great height without lying.

Monday's jailing marked a spectacular denouement in Huhne's career and heaped further humiliation after information about his private life spread across newspaper headlines.

Huhne and Pryce were married in 1984, but the marriage ended acrimoniously in June 2010, after Huhne walked out on his wife to live with his mistress and media adviser, Carina Trimingham.

Reports of Huhne's infidelity received added spice by revelations that Trimingham, a divorcee, had broken off a lesbian relationship to be with him.

Pryce leaked details of the deception to a journalist in 2011, saying she wanted to "nail" her ex as revenge for the breakdown of their marriage, kicking off a police investigation.

The prosecution alleged that Huhne had asked Pryce to take the rap for his speeding as he feared he would lose his license for a repeated offense.

Pryce had denied the charge against her, citing marital coercion in defense. She was convicted last week after a retrial, resulting in the eight month sentence on Monday.

A pretrial hearing exposed huge schisms in the Huhne family with the publication of text messages between Huhne and his youngest son, Peter.

One exchange, from May 2011, was highlighted by the prosecution as being relevant to the crown's case. It read:

Peter: "We all know that you were driving and you put pressure on Mum. Accept it or face the consequences. You've told me that was the case. Or will this be another lie?"
Chris: "I have no intention of sending Mum to Holloway Prison for three months, Dad."
Peter: "Are you going to accept your responsibility or do I have to contact the police and tell them what you told me?"

On Christmas Day 2011, Huhne sent a text to his son saying: "Happy Christmas. Love you, Dad." To which Peter replied: "Well I hate you, so f*** off."

Rosie Hallam / Getty Images

Vicky Pryce, ex-wife of Chris Huhne, arrives at Southwark Crown Court to be sentenced on Monday in in London.

Ambitious politician
Although Huhne's marital crisis came just weeks after he had been appointed to a cabinet post in Britain's coalition government, it did little to dent his ambitions for public office.

The 58-year-old had entered politics after working as an entrepreneur in London's financial services industry and building a career in financial journalism.

In June 1999 he was elected to the European Parliament after running on a Liberal Democrat ticket. He was elected to the House of Commons as Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh in the May 2005 general election.

Huhne twice stood for election as party leader, the smallest of Britain's mainstream national parties, and on the second occasion missed out by just a few hundred votes. In Westminster he was considered a political heavyweight, sometimes labeled as a "big beast," to whom the door to top office may never had opened, had it not been for the inconclusive result of the 2010 general election.

Following a hung parliament, Huhne was a member of the Liberal Democrat negotiating team that brokered the terms of a deal with the majority Conservative party. His appointment as secretary of state for energy and climate change was regarded as a reward for his skills and effort.

In office, Huhne faced the challenge of extending his party's "green" credentials and meeting international targets on carbon emissions, while government spending cuts and an economy in recession provided little in the way of large-scale investment that Huhne called for.

Huhne's career started to stutter in February last year when he resigned his cabinet post after being charged with his ex-wife over the cover-up.

When Huhne eventually admitted the conspiracy, he stepped down as lawmaker for his constituency.

He now joins a small but notorious band of former cabinet ministers who have served time in government and in jail.