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Chris Huhne charged over speed penalty dodge

Police have charged Energy Secretary Chris Huhne over allegations that he dodged a speeding penalty.

The Liberal Democrat MP has been charged with perverting the course of justice after an investigation into the 2003 incident by Essex Police.

His former wife, the economist Vicky Pryce is also facing charges of perverting the course of justice. They are due to appear before Westminster Magistrates' Court on February 16.

The Crown Prosecution Service explained how it arrived at the decision in a statement today.

It was read by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keir Starmer, who said: "A criminal complaint was made to Essex Police in May 2011, alleging that Ms Pryce had accepted responsibility for a speeding offence committed by Mr Huhne in 2003.

"That complaint was investigated by Essex Police and a file was passed to the CPS in late July 2011. The CPS advised that further investigations should be made, including obtaining certain material from a national newspaper.

"Those further investigations were made and, in October 2011, an order was made for the newspaper to produce material to the police. The newspaper appealed that order, as it was entitled to do, but subsequently consented to producing the material in question just before the appeal was due to be heard, on January 20 this year.

"All the available evidence, including the new material, has now been carefully considered by the CPS and we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Mr Huhne and Ms Pryce for perverting the course of justice.

"The essence of the charges is that between March and May 2003, Mr Huhne, having allegedly committed a speeding offence, falsely informed the investigating authorities that Ms Pryce had been the driver of the vehicle in question, and she falsely accepted that she was the driver.

"Accordingly, summonses against both Mr Huhne and Ms Pryce have been obtained from Westminster Magistrates' Court and those summonses will now be served on them. They are due to appear in court on February 16 this year.

"The decision in this case was taken by Mr Rene Barclay, a senior and very experienced prosecutor, in consultation with Sue Hemming, the head of special crime division and in consultation with me as DPP.

"Can I remind all concerned that Mr Huhne and Ms Pryce now stand charged with criminal offences and that they each have a right to a fair trial. It is very important that nothing is said, or reported, which could prejudice their trial."

The decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to press charges will place enormous pressure on Mr Huhne to quit his ministerial post and his membership of David Cameron's Cabinet.

He is expected to announce his intentions shortly.

Downing Street has so far declined to say whether Mr Cameron - who is out of London on a regional visit today - will sack the Energy Secretary and stage a reshuffle.

The minister's ex-wife Vicky Pryce, who allegedly agreed to take some penalty points so her ex could avoid a driving ban, told the BBC: "I understand there will be charges."

Her comment came ahead of an official announcement by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC.

The decision follows an eight-month police investigation into the allegations.

The decision to proceed with the case is expected to spell the end of the Liberal Democrat's Cabinet career - although he has repeatedly refused to confirm that he would quit.

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