Insight and analysis from Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford

Chris Huhne's trial by media and why we have the News of the World to thank for his exposure as a liar

Those who despised the News of the World’s fascination with the sex lives of the powerful and famous should perhaps bear in mind that without that now defunct paper Chris Huhne would still be Energy Secretary and we would be unaware that he was seriously dishonest.

.Huhne’s trial by media began on 19 June, 2010, when the News of the World contacted him to say it had evidence he spent the night with his former press spokeswoman Carina Trimingham. Huhne responded by telling his wife Vicki Pryce that their marriage of 26 years was over and issuing a statement in time for the next day’s paper saying: “I am in a serious relationship with Carina Trimingham and I am separating from my wife." It was a brutal but effective tactic which ahad previously saved the politicial career of former Labour foreign secretary Robin Cook. 
 
But it did not end the press fascination with Huhne’s private life, especially when it emerged that  Trimingham had formerly had a female civil partner.
 
Trimingham later sued over 65 “highly unpleasant and hurtful” articles which appeared in the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday. These included a Richard Littlejohn piece on 22 June 2010 which said: "If you asked to draw a comedy lesbian from central casting, Carina Trimingham is what you'd get. All spiky hair and Doc Martens. Chuck in a boiler suit and she's Milly Tant straight from the pages of Viz magazine....What Huhne sees in her can only be a matter for speculation.”  In May 2012 the case  was thrown out after Mr Justice Tugenhat ruled that “ insulting and offensive speech is protected by the right of freedom of expression”.
 
In May 2011, Pryce spoke to the Sunday Times about her shock at her husband's infidelity and his "ruthless decision to turn his back on his family" once the affair was exposed. The paper asked her about “Westminster rumours” that he had convinced “someone close to him” to accept penalty points for a speeding offence. Pryce said: “Yes, he did. But, look, there is such huge pressure on politicians to be everywhere at once, especially early in their career, so that they are visible — huge pressure — and he does drive a bit like a maniac.”
 
A spokesman for the Liberal Democrat MP issued the first of what would be many denials: “The allegations made against Chris Huhne are simply incorrect. These allegations have been made before and have been shown to be untrue.” 
 
 
The Mail on Sunday noted in that article that when it approached Huhne in 2010 about the motoring claims, a spokesman said: "These allegations are completely untrue. In 2003 Chris Huhne received a driving ban for maximum points and this is a matter of public record."
 
On June 21 last year police raided the South London home of Vicky Pryce and woke her teenage son asking him to hand over text messages after it was revealed in the Sunday Times that they were potentially incriminating. Yesterday that humilating series of texts were made public and they may well have contributed to Huhne's 11th hour decision to admit his guilt over conspiracy to pervert the cause of justice.
 
The Sun notes today: "Those urging a Leveson law to muzzle the Press should reflect hard on yesterday’s sensational events." Indeed. 
 
That first Sunday Times story was undoubtedly in the public interst and no new press regulator would be likely  to stop it being published. But what about that first News of the World exclusive?
 
I suspect that there are many in the Hacked Off camp, backing statutory press regulation, who would argue that Huhne's marital infidelity was entirely his own business and did not affect his political life. But without the revelation of that first private act of dishonesty we would never have found out about the many public lies he has also told.

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