The House of Common Conmen
If you have read my new article Institutionalised insanity, Suits and suitability, then you will know exactly what I mean when I say the following four articles are all testament to what I wrote.
Farage suggests Conservative pact at secret dinner with Murdoch
Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, held a private dinner with Rupert Murdoch earlier this week in which he suggested he would form an electoral pact with the Conservatives if the Prime Minister stepped down.
The media tycoon invited Mr Farage to a dinner at his central London flat on Tuesday evening in the wake of Ukip’s strong performance at the Eastleigh by-election.
It was the pair’s first meeting and underlines the growing political influence of the fringe party. The Ukip leader is understood to have told Mr Murdoch that he hopes to win half of the seats in next year’s European election.
He said he will then set out plans to join forces with the Conservatives to fight Labour in the 2015 general election, but only if David Cameron agrees to step down as the party leader, well-placed sources said.
Mr Murdoch is said to be supportive of Mr Farage’s views towards Europe and his backing for new grammar schools, but more sceptical about Ukip’s stance on immigration. The emergence of the secret meeting is likely to add to the growing pressure on the Prime Minister amid speculation that Cabinet ministers are positioning themselves for future leadership bids.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has recently emerged as a potential Tory leader after defying Cabinet calls for her to relax Britain’s immigration rules.
Mr Cameron has sought to dismiss Ukip as a party of “fruitcakes” and “closet racists” but several Conservative MPs believe it should be taken seriously and a deal should be done with Mr Farage. The Ukip leader is thought to be prepared to do a deal with virtually any other leader of the Conservatives except Mr Cameron, whom he does not trust.
Last week, Ukip beat the Conservatives into third place in the Eastleigh by-election which appears to have led to a series of announcements from the Government on immigration as it seeks to address the growing electoral threat.
Mr Murdoch is thought to share Mr Farage’s disdain for the Prime Minister and is not thought to have met Mr Cameron since the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World erupted in 2011. However, the chairman of News Corporation has maintained cordial relationships with several senior Conservative figures, including Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary.
Mr Murdoch is also understood to have hosted a private dinner attended by Owen Paterson, a Right-wing Eurosceptic member of the Cabinet, earlier this week.
Before the last election, Mr Cameron and other senior Conservatives made intensive efforts to secure the support of Mr Murdoch’s British newspapers, particularly The Sun.
vengeance: Couple will be reunited in the dock as scorned wife’s plot to ‘nail’ former minister Chris Huhne backfires
- Economist had been in court for a month and faced two trials
- Jury unanimously found that she had not taken points against her will
- Pryce is ‘very disappointed to have been convicted’, her solicitor says
- Chris Huhne and his ex-wife likely to be sentenced together next week
- Judge says that the crime 10-years-ago carries a jail term
- Claims emerge that Vicky Pryce told Vince Cable of crime, which he denies
- Pryce alleged in emails she confided in Miriam Clegg and Lord Oakeshott
- ‘I have never, ever been told by Vicky or anybody else,’ Mrs Clegg said
PUBLISHED: 14:45, 7 March 2013 | UPDATED: 00:26, 8 March 2013
Chris Huhne’s spurned ex-wife paid a terrible price for vengeance yesterday.
Vicky Pryce’s plot to ‘nail’ the former minister after he dumped her for his bisexual political aide blew up in her face when a jury threw out her claim that he bullied her into taking his speeding points.
Now the disgraced pair will stand side by side when they return to court to face jail, probably within two weeks.
In a final twist, 60-year-old Pryce could end up with the longer prison term.
Legal experts anticipate that the couple will be sentenced to at least six months, but that Huhne will be given a small discount for his guilty plea while Pryce dragged her family through two trials.
As the multi-millionaire mother of five prepares to swap her £2million townhouse in Clapham, south London, for a prison cell, it can be revealed that:
- Questions were raised over whether senior Lib Dems covered up the scandal as Pryce claims to have told senior figures, including Vince Cable, about taking the points four months before the story broke
- Her close friend and neighbour, part-time judge Constance Briscoe, could be charged with perverting the course of justice, accused of lying to police
- Police and prosecutors are also considering further charges against Pryce over claims she conspired with Briscoe to cover-up her role in the affair.
- Pryce threatened to ‘out’ an aspect of her ex-husband’s personal life as she plotted to destroy his career over his affair with his PA Carina Trimingham.
- Three jurors at Pryce’s re-trial were seen ‘nodding off’ despite the fiasco of the first trial, in which the jury were castigated for failing to understand the case.
A shell-shocked Pryce stood stock still with her mouth open as the jury returned their unanimous guilty verdict after 12 hours.
Her front cracked for the first time as the verdict signalled a brutal end to her career at the top table of British economic policy and dreams of a seat in the House of Lords.
Addressing her in the dock where she spent 18 days during two trials, Mr Justice Sweeney said she faces jail when she returns.
Echoing the words he said to Huhne last month, he said: ‘Miss Pryce, you were present when I indicated to Mr Huhne the inevitable consequences of a conviction.
‘You must be under no illusions that my granting you bail indicates any watering down of that previous approach.’
Later her lawyer said she is ‘naturally very disappointed’ but pointedly thanked her ‘children, friends and colleagues’ for supporting her.
The multi-lingual professor, made a Companion of the Order of Bath by the Queen, must brace herself for a prison sentence among petty thieves, drug addicts and fraudsters.
Huhne has already stepped into political oblivion after admitting his crime and resigning from his Eastleigh seat, triggering last week’s by-election.
But his fate has not stopped him stepping out into the capital’s social scene with a string of sightings in recent weeks.
Last week, he was seen at the Duke of York Theatre watching The Judas Kiss, a play about a high-profile person facing prison.
On Saturday he joined former party colleagues for Lembit Opik’s 48th birthday bash at the trendy Cuban restaurant Floridita in London’s Soho.
The conviction completes Pryce’s spectacular fall from grace as she was caught up in her own spiteful bid to end Huhne’s Parliamentary career.
Her plot began in June 2010 when he brutally dumped her for his bisexual PR woman Carina Trimingham and humiliated her at a party conference three months later.
Driven by jealously and anger, Pryce sparked the police investigation by leaking his illegal actions eight years earlier to the Press.
But by pointing the finger at her ex-husband she also incriminated herself and ended up trying to escape justice with the unusual defence of marital coercion.
Ultimately the jury was left with the stark choice of whether to believe her as she raked over the ashes of her 26-year marriage without fear of contradiction from Huhne.
She said the ruthlessly ambitious politician saw her as an inferior whose needs always took second place to his thirst for power.
She painted the picture of a meek wife who repeatedly sacrificed her own career so he could climb the greasy political pole.
But she could not deny her remarkable success as a professional who beat a path for modern women at the top of Whitehall by juggling her career and busy family life.
Prosecutors suspect Briscoe, her friend and neighbour who had been jilted by her own lover, may have been behind the unusual defence.
The prominent black judge, best known for her misery memoir Ugly, played a key role in negotiations with the two newspapers.
Pryce, who still holds the post of senior managing director at a City firm, was brazen until the last.
On the Saturday before the first trial she held a party for members of the London Lib Dem elite at her home.
- To a Greek mother her son is a god. Upset him and she’ll wreak her fury: Why Vicky Pryce became hell-bent on revenge
- Happy families? Even as Huhne gave his stepdaughter away at her Greek wedding, the MP had already begun a fateful affair with his bisexual aide
- A sneering public school Trot: Chris Huhne was always heading for a fall
- The mad hubris of us politicians: I know because it brought me down too, says JONATHAN AITKEN
Her legal team tried to get the retrial delayed after the collapse of her first trial, claiming she suffered ‘extremely high blood pressure’ and was under ‘enormous stress’.
But the judge said Pryce appeared to exert ‘total control’ over the running of her case, and insisted the retrial go ahead immediately.
Meanwhile, the Crown Prosecution Service has released a cache of emails sent by Vicky Pryce to a journalist that raise serious questions about how much senior Liberal Democrats knew about the scandal before it hit the headlines.
As they planned how best to ‘nail’ Chris Huhne, Pryce told Isabel Oakeshott that she had revealed the points-swapping scam to Vince Cable and his wife Rachel, as well as Nick Clegg’s wife Miriam, before the story was published and her arrest.
Trial: Vicky Pryce (left), the ex-wife of Britain’s former energy secretary Chris Huhne (right), arrives at Southwark Crown Court today to hear the jury’s verdict
Outside court an emotional Pryce stood alongside her solicitor, who spoke on her behalf and said she was ‘very disappointed to have been convicted’ and thanked her friends, family and colleagues for their support.
There is now renewed pressure on Nick Clegg to reveal how much he and others knew about the crime.
The jury were shown emails which said that over dinner in January 2011 she had told Vince Cable and his wife Rachel she had taken her husband’s points.
‘I had told Vince and Rachel about points before when the three of us were having supper about a month ago – they were horrified at the time but VC has probably forgotten it by now. He was v tired that night,’ Mrs Pryce told a Sunday Times journalist.
This was four months before the case was made public and a year before she and Huhne were charged by police.
But the Business Secretary said today he had ‘no recollection’ of the conversation.
Pryce also alleged she told Nick Clegg’s wife Miriam and Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott.
‘Yes, I have told VC (Vince Cable), Miriam C (Clegg), MOak (Matthew Oakeshott) … and a few other Lib Dem Lords and others working close to NC (Nick Clegg),’ Mrs Pryce wrote later in April 2011
‘I have never, ever been told by Vicky or anybody else about the traffic points story. I got to know about this when everybody else did.’ Mrs Clegg said.
Lord Oakeshott also issued a denial today saying: ‘Vicky (Pryce) must have been under great pressure but I am sure she never raised a question of points with me’.
Emails: Documents shown to the jury showed that Mrs Pryce claimed she had told Nick Clegg’s wife Miriam about her crime and Vince Cable, which they deny
Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge, from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, which investigated the offence, said: ‘The conviction of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce has been achieved through the thorough and steadfast investigation conducted by officers and specialist staff at Essex and Kent Police.
‘Perverting the course of justice is a serious offence.
‘We hope this conviction serves as a timely reminder to motorists who try and avoid driving bans by “giving” their points to others.
‘This practice is not only unlawful, but has life changing consequences for those who get caught flouting the rules.’
On the first day of their trial on February 4 Huhne caused gasps of disbelief after he finally admitted the crime after years of telling ‘anyone who would listen’ – including the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister – that he was innocent.
Pryce said she had taken the points for her former husband but she denied the charge, claiming he forced her to do it.
The case dates back to 2003 when Huhne was caught speeding in his BMW near Stansted Airport.
He thought he would lose his licence, jeopardising his chances of being nominated as the Lib Dem candidate for Eastleigh, Hampshire.
Affair: Huhne left Pryce for his aide Carina Trimingham, right, who accompanied him to court when he changed his plea to guilty
Pryce admitted taking the blame for him but claimed he forced her to take the points, using ‘marital coercion’ as a defence.
He went on to win the seat, despite an eventual driving ban later that year after he was caught talking on his mobile phone while driving.
She said he put his political career first throughout their 26-year marriage, while she was forced to compromise her own successful career.
But the jury unanimously failed to accept her version of events as the prosecution convinced them she was not the ‘quivering jelly’ she claimed.
Both of Pryce’s trials gave a deep and clear insight into the couple’s broken marriage.
Huhne left Pryce in June 2010 after confessing to an 18-month affair with his aide Carina Trimingham. Pryce told the court he also had a second secret mistress.
The court heard Pryce spent months trying to reveal the points-swapping episode to the Press so she could ‘nail’ Huhne, and the story broke in May 2011 in two Sunday newspapers.
The warring couple were both charged with perverting the course of justice in February last year.
Huhne stepped down from his post in the coalition Cabinet, vowing to fight the charge and clear his name.
But when his lawyers failed to get the case thrown out, he changed his plea on the first day of the trial and resigned as an MP.
The Liberal Democrat is almost certain to go to jail after being told to be under ‘no illusions’ that he will join the ranks of disgraced politicians alongside Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken.
In her first trial she also told the court how Chris Huhne forced her to have an abortion for the sake of his career.
Later she then revealed the disgraced former Lib Dem MP tried to make her terminate another pregnancy two years later.
Mrs Pryce, 60, said she was booked in to have an abortion but now had the strength to resist her husband and refused to go at the very last moment
Giving evidence at her trial for perverting the course of justice, she told Southwark Crown Court that she later gave birth to a ‘wonderful’ son, Peter.
It then emerged Peter, who was born in 1992, was involved in an angry exchange of text messages with his father after the break-up. In the emails shown to the court, Peter describes his father as a ‘fat piece of ****’ and tells him: ‘I hate you, so **** off’.
Pryce’s brother even flew in from Greece this week in a last ditch attempt to clear her sibling’s name.
George Courmouzis said Vicky Pryce faced a ‘fait accompli’ when her husband Chris Huhne forced her to take his speeding points.
His sister told him she did ‘something against her will’ shortly after she helped the Lib Dem Cabinet Minister dodge a driving ban.
But prosecutors asked why he did not give evidence at her first trial but had now appeared ‘like a rabbit out of a hat’.
Andrew Edis QC, added: ‘Have you just come forward out of family loyalty to support her?’
Later, as he summed up the prosecution case, Mr Edis told the jury to question why the defendant’s brother ‘appears for the first time like a rabbit out of the hat’. He said 21st century sexual equality meant Pryce was accountable for what she did.
In the second trial it also emerged that Britain’s top black judge had been arrested over claims that she lied about her involvement in leaking information on Chris Huhne to the Press.
Pryce’s crime could wreck the career of her friend and neighbour, judge Constance Briscoe
The trial of Vicky Pryce may have laid a bomb under the reputation of her close friend and neighbour Constance Briscoe.
The high-profile black woman judge could face ruin amid claims she lied to police about her role as the economist’s secret media fixer.
Briscoe, 55, will learn within weeks whether she will be charged following her arrest for perjury last October.
The jury in Pryce’s retrial were told that prosecutors abandoned her as a witness because she could no longer be relied on.
And her character was called into question by emails that laid bare her apparent role at the centre of the plot to bring down Huhne.
In one a journalist remarked that she was determined to go ‘in for the kill’ as rumours swirled around the Lib Dem politician.
But the jury was not told of how she stonewalled police and failed to respond to requests to attend court as her reputation was called into question.
Now it can be reported how Huhne’s legal team suggested she fabricated vital evidence against Pryce’s ex-husband.
His barrister John Kelsey-Fry QC said there is ‘reason to suspect’ Miss Briscoe invented a conversation in 2003 in which Pryce said she was forced to take his points.
In the evidence, Briscoe recounted how she told Pryce to ‘come clean’ when she confessed during a kitchen chat.
But Mr Kelsey-Fry questioned why the account – vital because it backdated the claims to before the collapse of their marriage – appeared so ‘late in the day’.
He even suggested Miss Briscoe sold information to a Sunday newspaper for cash, although police found no evidence this is true.
During a string of hearings before the trials, the judge was told how Briscoe did not respond to emails or telephone messages inviting her to attend court hearings.
It also emerged that as Briscoe stonewalled police, one officer turned up at her home unannounced in a bid to speak to her.
But she left DC Tracey Fullerton standing outside from lunchtime to 5.30pm while she ‘went to the gym’ and then declined to give an official statement.
In a later signed statement, which she faxed to police before going on holiday, Briscoe said she had ‘absolutely no contact’ with the media.
But by this time police had uncovered a growing body of evidence that appeared to show this was not true, including a dossier of emails.
Describing his dealings with Briscoe, Det Insp Martin Pasmore, who led the inquiry, said she was ‘hard to explain, perhaps a strange character.’
He said: ‘She is demonstrably difficult to get hold of but she tends to live her life in crisis a lot of the time.
‘It was just a question of whenever we tried to make contact with Briscoe it would always be on her terms.
‘If she was going to the gym or going for a run, there was never any urgency in the situation that you might get with a police officer.’
Briscoe was angrily denounced by Huhne as ‘batty’ as his wife tried to catch him on tape confessing to forcing her to take the points.
In one recorded call he said: ‘The person that you know who is batty enough to go with this sort of vendetta is Constance.’
And in one of his police interviews he branded her a ‘publicity seeker of long standing’ when questions about her connections to his former wife.
Emails between David Dillon, the Mail on Sunday’s news editor, and freelance reporter Andrew Alderson also raised questions about her behaviour.
In one, Mr Alderson said: ‘We can both take her out for a ‘farewell to Huhne drink’ when he bows to the inevitable in the next few days. As we know, Constance is quite partial to a glass or two.’
In another, sent in December 2010, Miss Briscoe wrote to Alderson asking if the paper was ready to publish the story about Huhne’s penalty points. She wrote: ‘Are we set for blast-off this weekend?’
The day after the first stories appeared Mr Alderson contacted Mr Dillon again, saying Miss Briscoe was ‘determined to go for the kill’.
Miss Briscoe, famous for her misery memoir Ugly, lives three doors away from Pryce in an exclusive private street in Clapham, South-West London.
Their grown-up children went to school together and remain friends and they were united in grief after being left by their partners.
In Miss Briscoe’s case she was dumped by her lover Tony Arlidge QC, 76, for a woman 51 years his junior.
It later emerged that the former judge ended their 12-year relationship after striking up an extraordinary affair with aspiring blonde barrister Heather Lockwood, 25.
The decision to charge Briscoe is on hold until Mr Justice Sweeney rules on whether the prosecution acted lawfully when it handed the material to police.
The Mail on Sunday claims the move was in contempt of court as it claims the material was only released to Huhne because of his right to a fair trial.
Miss Briscoe’s elderly mother was left with a £500,000 legal bill after unsuccessfully trying to sue the publisher of the best-seller for libel over her best-selling memoir.
After studying in Newcastle, Warwick and Wolverhampton, she became a barrister in 1983 and has worked as a crown court recorder and specialist rape prosecutor.
Based at Bell Yard chambers in Central London, she has worked on cases including fraud, violence and historic sexual offences.
Anyone convicted of perverting the course of justice faces a maximum prison sentence of life, although most terms are less than three years.
Happy families? Even as Huhne gave his stepdaughter away at her Greek wedding, the MP had already begun a fateful affair with his bisexual aide
- Huhne played the dutiful stepfather when he gave Pryce’s daughter away
- But he was cheating on his family with mistress Carina Trimingham
- Double life was to blow family apart and set his wife on path of revenge
PUBLISHED: 23:22, 7 March 2013 | UPDATED: 00:26, 8 March 2013
The scene could hardly have been more romantic as Vicky Pryce linked arms with her husband Chris Huhne while the sun set over the Aegean.
Yet as they posed as one big happy family for a wedding photograph in Greece, only Huhne could have known they were living one big fat lie.
To his trusting family, he was playing the dutiful stepfather as he gave away Georgia – his wife’s elder daughter from her first marriage.
Little did any of them suspect that, back in Britain, he was cheating on his family with his bisexual mistress Carina Trimingham.
His double life was to blow the family apart and set his scorned wife on a path of revenge that culminated in them both facing jail.
But on that balmy evening in September 2009, shameless Huhne soaked up the acclaim as he basked in the role of a proud father of the bride at the ceremony in Varkiza – a posh suburb of the Greek capital known as the ‘Athens Riviera’.
He led 33-year-old Georgia down the aisle at the pretty cliff-top chapel where she married Ed Beesley.
Then Huhne lined up for photographs flanked by the bride and his wife Vicky, who looked happy and suntanned in a black and white African print dress and a pearl necklace.
Ambitious Huhne once openly boasted that his nuclear family would make him ‘such a photogenic prime minister’.
On the floor: Pryce dances with an unknown guest while a jacketless Huhne is almost squeezed out of the picture (left). Ambitious Huhne once boasted his family would make him ‘such a photogenic prime minister’
As the sun went down and the traditional Greek festivities got under way, Huhne shed his jacket and joined in with the knees-up alongside his laughing wife.
He rolled up his sleeves in the heat of the evening and danced with his unsuspecting family on one of the happiest days of their lives.
The extent of Huhne’s betrayal is clear by the fact that he had been chosen to give away his stepdaughter at her wedding.
Georgia’s biological father, academic Gareth Pryce, split from her mother in the early 1980s before she met Huhne.
Georgia later gave a statement about the pressure her mother was under at the time she took the points for Huhne after he was caught by a speed camera.
She gave evidence in court for her mother at both trials.
Sadly, I have been where Chris Huhne will be standing in a few days’ time — in the dock, waiting to receive an expected jail sentence for lies and follies on a career-wrecking scale.
Because it takes one to know one, I have some understanding of the self-questioning, the regrets and the fears that are likely to torment Chris Huhne on the most dramatic stage of his painful journey from Cabinet minister to prisoner.
When I sat in the dock of the Old Bailey on my sentencing day, I remember asking myself: How on earth did I come to embark on and stick to such a self-destructive course of stupidity?
Why didn’t I stop the downward spiral of deceit when it was still possible to do so? Will I be able to survive the horrors and dangers that may lie ahead of me in prison? Will I ever be able to have a normal relationship with my family and friends when I come out of jail? Can I hope for any sort of bearable long-term future as a disgraced ex-prisoner?
The personal poignancy of such self-examination will produce little or no public sympathy for Chris Huhne any more than it did for me nearly 14 years ago. Yet the questions need to be answered.
For without facing up to these issues the chances of finding peace and rehabilitation for almost any ex-offender, let alone a high-profile politician, are extremely low.
- The price of vengeance: Couple will be reunited as scorned wife’s plot to nail the former Minister backfires
- ‘Vicky Pryce faced fait accompli from MP husband Chris Huhne after he nominated her as speeding driver of his car’, her brother tells court
- Britain’s most famous female judge arrested over claims she lied to police in Chris Huhne speeding points case
- A sneering public school Trot: Chris Huhne was always heading for a fall
Our prisons are full of risk takers whose gambles went wrong. Parliamentarians, too, sometimes place reckless bets in the casino of law breakers. Since 2000, five MPs and four Members of the House of Lords have served prison sentences for a range of offences related to expenses fraud and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Chris Huhne will bring the total to double figures.
The common cause of all these downfalls was pride. In our arrogance we thought we could get away with it. From fiddling expenses to telling lies, the delusions of public life somehow encouraged us to believe we could walk on water.
Huhne’s serial denials are part of a historical pattern. From Profumo to myself, Jeffrey Archer, John Stonehouse, the French ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, U.S. President Richard Nixon and many others, the reaction when cornered was to roll the dice of liar’s poker one more time.
For some it worked. Unprosecuted parliamentary expense fiddlers are at least ten times greater in number than those who went behind bars.
Do these trends merely reflect the declining morality of the nation? Or does the hothouse of Westminster breed an unusual species of law-breaking high roller?
Probably the latter. How surprising that none of us heeded that majestic utterance of the 16th-century Lord Justice Coke: ‘Be ye ever so high, the law is above you.’
It is right that the courts come down hard on those in a position of public trust who break the law.
Almost always it is the mendacious cover-up rather than the original offence that spells disaster.
From Huhne’s speeding points to my false claim that my ex-wife paid my Ritz Hotel bill, it is the brazenness of the denials that converts trivial mistakes into personal tragedies.
Position of public trust: From Huhne’s speeding points to Aitken’s (left) false claim that his ex-wife paid his Ritz Hotel bill, it is the brazenness of the denials that converts trivial mistakes into personal tragedies
When the jail sentence comes, it is best to face it with wintry realism, devoid of bitterness or self-pity.
We authors of our own self-destruction should not complain when the book is thrown at us.
Yet although almost everyone’s life hits rock bottom on the day the judge sends you down, there are some silver linings to the cloud, even if it takes a while to see them. So from my own experiences I have some cautiously reassuring advice for Chris Huhne.
Fear of imprisonment is much worse than the reality of it. British jails may be uncomfortable places but they are humanely run. Prison officers deserve more credit than they get for managing a difficult public service that is on the whole fair, decent and safe.
Provided Chris Huhne is wise enough to avoid the airs and graces of a tall poppy, he will soon go with the flow of ‘doing his bird’. If he keeps his head down and joins the fraternity of the fallen with quiet acceptance, attitudes on the wing will start to soften into friendliness. Even in a community of those who have done bad deeds, camaraderie, humour and the milk of human kindness can flow.
One of the reasons why I had a surprisingly positive experience of prison was that I made myself useful to my fellow inmates. I was a ‘Listener’ (a Samaritan-type counsellor) for those close to suicidal despair. I spent two or three hours every day reading and writing letters, often on the most intimate subjects imaginable, for the 30 per cent of the jail population who are illiterate.
I became a dab hand with the Harpic and the wire brush in my job as the wing cleaner (a euphemism for toilet cleaner), although I did get slightly tired of the line: ‘How does it feel to be a real Privy Councillor?’ It was a reminder that there are no Right Honourable Gentlemen in prison uniform.
If a little catcalling is the worst a high-profile prisoner has to put up with, be thankful for small mercies.
I was soon grateful for larger ones. I made one or two enduring friendships. I kept fit in body and mind. I mentored younger inmates. Chapel life became a source of strength.
Unused to having an excess of spare time, I found that a cell is a great place to read widely and think deeply. I learned two new languages (New Testament Greek and prison rhyming slang) and was never bored, enjoying the company of several of my fellow cons. I commend all these routes of survival to Chris Huhne, and have written to him with more specific suggestions.
Given the background to his disaster I expect he will find that the heaviest of his burdens will be in the areas of bitterness, forgiveness, family relationships, personal regrets and the struggle to stay on an even keel in his own mind. I know this is not easy, for there is no quick fix to the turmoil of a wounded prisoner’s soul.
Yet it is a good start that Chris Huhne pleaded guilty, for it suggests he has abandoned the façade of self-justification. The next step is to wash all traces of anger out of one’s system, for that opens the door to life in a bitterness-free zone.
Forgiveness may be an even harder step. But just as ‘hell hath no fury’, so the continuing fury of an embittered prisoner knows no greater hell.
I shall always remember walking round the exercise yard of HMP Belmarsh when a monk from the chaplaincy team came alongside and asked me how I was feeling. On a bad day, I was in an angry mood about someone who had played a minor role in my downfall. So I launched into a diatribe which ended: ‘I’ll never forgive so and so.’
The monk gently reminded me that I was the sole cause of my misfortunes. But understanding the difficulty of immediately forgiving a specific individual, he repeated a piece of advice he had given to many injured parties in matrimonial disputes. ‘You can’t forgive anyone by your will alone,’ said the monk, ‘but if you pray to receive the gift of a forgiving heart you will one day receive it and then be able to use this gift to forgive and be forgiven.’
It was an unusual piece of spiritual wisdom but it worked for me. Perhaps it might eventually work to heal those raw relationships within the Huhne family.
Coming out of prison is harder than going inside it. In anyone’s post-release journey there are mistakes to be avoided such as self-importance, resentment towards those who exposed the original wrongdoing, and carrying any kind of baggage from your days in the spotlight. This is fresh-start time, particularly with the friends you have let down and the family you have wounded.
As a proud man, Chris Huhne will have to work hard to rebuild his bridges and to readjust to life at a humbler level in the decades that lie ahead of him. But I can tell him that I have found in my own changed circumstances great happiness, fulfilment and peace.
On the worst day of his life, I wish Chris Huhne well for a similar journey through and after prison.