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Journalists involved reject Chris Huhne’s suggestion that Murdoch conspiracy behind his downfall

By Dominic Ponsford

Disgraced former cabinet minister Chris Huhne has used the first instalment of a new weekly column in The Guardian to suggest a conspiracy in the Murdoch-owned press was behind his downfall.

Former Energy Secretary Huhne was jailed in March alongside his former wife Vicky Pryce for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice after admitting that she took the punishment for speeding points on his behalf.

His marriage was destroyed in June 2010 when the News of the World revealed that he was having an affair with his former press secretary Carina Trimingham. The criminal prosecution for the speeding points was prompted by articles in the Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday in May 2011 based on off-the-record conversations with Pryce.

Huhne said in his Guardian piece: “ My endgame began when Neville Thurlbeck, the chief reporter of the now defunct News of the World, heard gossip that I was having an affair. Rather than cheapskating on the proposed investigation by hacking my phone, the News of the World put me under extensive surveillance by a retired policeman, a more expensive exercise.

“Why was News International prepared to invest so much to tail an opposition Liberal Democrat back in 2009? Maybe it was coincidence, but that summer I was the only frontbencher who, with Nick Clegg's brave backing, called for the Metropolitan police to reopen the voicemail hacking inquiry into Rupert Murdoch's empire.”

Writing on Twitter, Thurlbeck said: “Not a 'Murdoch press target'. A Neville Thurlbeck target. My source, my story. & it took a year to persuade the ed to run it

“The 'Murdoch press' thought Huhne was such a political minnow, they didn't want to run it. End of conspiracy theory.”

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Writing about the criminal prosecution, Huhne said: “The News of the World sparked the end of my marriage, but another Murdoch title, the Sunday Times, then groomed my ex-wife until she told them about the speeding points.

“The political editor bought dinners, sent flowers, offered breaks at smart hotels, and reassured her that she would not face any unpleasant consequences (such as prison).

“Four successive weeks as the splash in the Sunday Times ensured our joint prosecution. The Crown Prosecution Service loves a celebrity trial. It was the end of my political career, and it locked up my ex-wife too. She was just another 'burned contact' for the Murdoch press.”

While admitting that “none of this would have been possible without my own mistakes”, Huhne also suggested that changes should be made to media ownership rules.

He said: “Media ownership must be more diverse because it is the lifeblood of public debate. If competition policy is not enough, then we should have statutory limitations or even help for small media outfits (as other countries do).”

The Guido Fawkes blog was also closely involved with exposing the Huhne scandal.

It said on Twitter in response to The Guardian piece: “I know something about the pursuit of Chris Huhne, no Murdoch conspiracy. Editors were not convinced the story would lead anywhere.”

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