ENERGY MINISTER REFUSES TO COOPERATE WITH POLICE

May 29 2011

– Energy Secretary Chris Huhne failed to answer detailed questions when interviewed by police over allegations that he got his ex-wife to take his speeding points, it was claimed last night.

According to a source close to the investigation, the embattled Minister declined to comment when grilled by detectives about his movements on the night of the alleged offence.

It is understood he exercised his right to remain silent when asked a series of questions about his car and travel arrangements during the taped interrogation at Belgravia police station in London last Tuesday.

Claims: Chris Huhne's former wife Vicky Pryce
Staying silent: Lib Dem MP Chris Huhne

Mr Huhne, 56, denies allegations that he was caught speeding on the M11 on March 12, 2003, and then asked his wife, economist Vicky Pryce, to take the three points so he could avoid a driving ban. Miss Pryce’s driving licence is clean apart from the 2003 offence at the centre of the furore.

An issue central to the investigation is whether the Minister, who was an MEP at the time, flew back from Strasbourg to Stansted Airport in Essex, before driving home to the couple’s £3 million Georgian house in Clapham, South London.

The source told The Mail on Sunday: ‘He didn’t go through all the issues or give detailed answers.’

The Cabinet Minister is believed to have been questioned under caution, in the presence of his lawyer, after agreeing to meet detectives investigating claims that he attempted to pervert the course of justice.

The latest developments follow reports that Miss Pryce, 57, refused to tell police she took penalty points on her husband’s behalf when she was interviewed by detectives at a separate police station last week. One possible explanation for her reticence is that by admitting her part in the offence, she would incriminate herself.

However, friends of Miss Pryce said she is ‘extremely irritated’ by suggestions that she was not prepared to fully co-operate with the police. Her solicitor, Sarah Webb, said: ‘Vicky Pryce continues to co-operate with the police, as Chris Huhne MP has indicated he does.’

Rumours of the alleged speeding points affair first emerged after The Mail on Sunday was told of the matter by a source close to Carina Trimingham, the 44-year-old bisexual media consultant whose affair with Mr Huhne ended his 27-year marriage with Miss Pryce.

Vigilant: The Gatso speed camera on the southbound M11 that is believed to be at the centre of the mystery

Vigilant: The Gatso speed camera on the southbound M11 that is believed to be at the centre of the mystery

A close friend of Miss Pryce said last night: ‘Vicky is dismayed

by suggestions that the speeding affair started because she was seeking revenge. She was not the one to raise it.’

A police source last night insisted that the investigation ‘was robust’, adding: ‘We can never have enough evidence.’

It is understood that because of the sensitivity of the case the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, is to rule on whether Mr Huhne should be charged.

Police have not revealed the exact time the vehicle was caught speeding or the precise location, but fresh details have come to light about the alleged offence.

The Mail on Sunday has been told by a source close to the investigation that the offence took place at 11.23pm on the southbound carriageway of the M11, close to the Essex-London border.

This could be a crucial piece of evidence, because on the night of the speeding offence, Miss Pryce was a speaker at a seminar at the London School of Economics (LSE), which was followed by a three-course dinner with ten other economists and academics.

Records show Mr Huhne was in Strasbourg that afternoon as he voted in the European Parliament. It is believed that he boarded a Ryan-air flight that evening from Strasbourg, which landed at Stansted airport at 10.23pm. LSE officials said that they did not know when precisely the dinner attended by Miss Pryce finished, but normally events like that finish at about 10pm.

Graphic shows the route Huhne is believed to have taken

Had she driven to pick up Mr Huhne, this would have given Miss Pryce just one hour and 23 minutes to complete a round trip of about 58 miles. The journey would have taken her through built-up areas of Central London where the speed limit is 30mph.

The speed camera which may have caught the offence is believed to be the infamous Gatso placed on the southbound carriageway between junctions five and four of the M11, where the speed limit suddenly drops from 70mph to 50mph, and the motorway shrinks from three lanes to two.

The Gatso is said to be one ofthe most lucrative enforcement cameras in the country, issuing more than 9,000 speeding tickets annually.

Economist Diane Coyle and Danny Quah, professor of economics at LSE, recall being at the dinner with Miss Pryce. ‘I was at the dinner, and so was Vicky Pryce. I think we all left at the usual time, but I can’t tell you when that was,’ said Miss Coyle.

An LSE spokesman said: ‘The dinner finished at 10pm, as is usual for events like that, but we can’t tell you when Vicky Pryce left, if she left early or not.’

If Miss Pryce left the dinner at 10pm, it would have taken another five minutes for her to go to her car, and then it would have taken her at least an hour before she could have picked up her husband at the airport, which is 34 miles north-east of the LSE.

If Mr Huhne got into the car straight away at the arrivals pick-up area, Miss Pryce would have had to drive 24 miles down the M11 in less than 18 minutes to be caught by the camera.

‘I was at the dinner, and so was Vicky Pryce’

All calculations using map-reading devices show that the earliest Miss Pryce could have been at the area of the alleged speeding offence would be 11.34pm, 11 minutes after it is believed to have happened.

The police investigation has also widened, with detectives interviewing fellow diners at the LSE. The LSE has said it has been contacted by the police and is co-operating with their inquiries.

Detectives have refused to comment on whether they have found a picture from the speed camera, which would reveal the vehicle’s registration number.

There is speculation that the vehicle caught by the speed camera was a BMW 7 Series whose registered owner was Mr Huhne and had the personalised registration plate H11 HNE. A source said the Huhne family owned two Volvos as well as the BMW, adding that the au pair and the children used one Volvo and Miss Pryce the other. Mr Huhne used the BMW.

It is believed Ryanair has handed to police the passenger details of everyone on the flight Mr Huhne is said to have boarded in Strasbourg.

A European Parliament source said that detectives are expected to make a formal application for all paperwork relating to Mr Huhne’s expenses, which could reveal his whereabouts at the crucial time. His movements on the day are vital to the investigation, which is why detectives are trying to gather as much evidence as possible that would piece together his whereabouts.

Mr Huhne did receive a three-month driving ban in December 2003, after being caught using his mobile phone while driving in London in a separate incident. During the ban, Miss Pryce was on hand to drive him where he needed to be as he prepared for his third attempt to be elected to Parliament.

In a statement, a spokesman for Essex Police said: ‘We can confirm we have spoken to two key people on Tuesday at a police station in Essex and in London. We don’t expect a major update on this case for up to two weeks.’ Essex Police declined to comment further.

Mr Huhne was unavailable for comment last night.

– Simon Walters & Abul Taher

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