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British Politician and Ex-Wife Sentenced to Prison

LONDON — A sensational trial that featured a leading politician, his extramarital affair, a speeding ticket, his now-divorced wife and her decision to wreak her revenge ended on Monday with a judge sending both of them to prison.

At Southwark Crown Court in London, the judge, Sir Nigel Sweeney, sentenced the defendants — Chris Huhne, 58, formerly the energy minister in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, and Vicky Pryce, 60, a prominent economist — to eight months in prison for perverting the course of justice.

Mr. Huhne and Ms. Pryce were taken handcuffed from the court to separate London prisons, where they were expected, under early-release rules aimed at easing prison overcrowding, to spend as little as nine weeks. Once out of prison, they would be subject to house arrest in their homes here until paroled, usually after serving half their sentences.

The court found that to protect Mr. Huhne’s political career, the couple had lied to hide the fact that Mr. Huhne was at the wheel in 2003 when traffic cameras clocked his BMW sedan at 69 miles per hour on a London expressway with a posted speed limit of 50 m.p.h.

Ms. Pryce, who had accepted responsibility for the ticket, concealed the deception until 2011, when she revealed it in interviews with The Sunday Times, in an effort to disgrace Mr. Huhne and force him to resign from Mr. Cameron’s cabinet.

Both defendants had pleaded not guilty, but Mr. Huhne changed his plea to guilty on the morning his trial began last month. Ms. Pryce maintained that she had acted under “marital coercion” and underwent two trials in quick succession. Justice Sweeney told the defendants, standing side by side at the sentencing, that while both had “tried to lie your way out of trouble again and again,” he found Mr. Huhne “slightly, but not greatly, more culpable” because he had initiated the deception over who was driving.

When Mr. Huhne resigned from the Cameron government last year to fight the case, it was the first time in modern British history that a cabinet minister had been forced from office by a criminal prosecution. His fall captured headlines for months with its high-octane mix of ambition, betrayal, deceit and revenge.

“Any element of tragedy is entirely your own fault,” the judge told the two in court on Monday.

“You have fallen from a great height,” Justice Sweeney told Mr. Huhne. He equally admonished Ms. Pryce, saying her effort to destroy her former husband’s career and then to evade her own responsibility showed “the controlling, manipulative and devious side of your nature.”

Sitting only feet apart in the glass-walled dock, Mr. Huhne and Ms. Pryce never looked at each other. Mr. Huhne seemed consumed by grief and on the verge of tears, eyes often downcast; Ms. Pryce, pale and impassive, stared ahead.

To many in Britain, Mr. Huhne and Ms. Pryce had seemed like the archetypal power couple. He is an Oxford-educated former financial journalist with The Guardian and The Economist, who reaped a fortune by founding and then selling a financial consultancy before setting out to reach the pinnacle of politics.

She is a master’s graduate of the London School of Economics who became joint head of the Government Economic Service, while raising five children, three of them from her marriage to Mr. Huhne.

The trial turned on conflicting accounts of how Ms. Pryce, instead of Mr. Huhne, came to accept the speeding citation, a subterfuge the police say is used by tens of thousands of British drivers caught by roadside cameras every year.

Had she done it under pressure from Mr. Huhne, feeling compelled to comply to protect her family, as her defense maintained? Or was she a willing conspirator, as the prosecution said?

What appeared to have doomed Ms. Pryce’s hopes for acquittal was prosecution evidence showing that she had done nothing for years to expose the ticket-switch, which saved Mr. Huhne from losing his driver’s license, and that her attitude changed only when her marriage collapsed.

The court heard that after the tabloid The News of The World discovered that he was having an affair with a political aide, Mr. Huhne told his wife of the affair hours before the tabloid went to press. He also told her that he was immediately announcing that their 26-year marriage was at an end, in an effort to save his cabinet seat.

Many in Britain have voiced sympathy for Ms. Pryce, seeing her as a deeply wronged woman.

“From a purely personal view, Vicky Pryce would have done well to heed the old Chinese proverb, ‘Before you set off on revenge, dig two graves,’ ” David Dangoor, a prominent British business executive and philanthropist, wrote in a letter published Monday in The Times of London.

But he added, “From a wider perspective, her actions were an important expression of the deep hurt caused by marital betrayal and abandonment, suffered by many women after years of devotion.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 11, 2013

An earlier version of this article misidentified David Dangoor. He is a prominent British businessman and philanthropist, not an American-born marketing executive. It also misidentified Ms. Pryce’s degree from the London School of Economics. She is a master’s graduate, not a doctoral graduate.


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