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Clegg cool on Huhne 'payback' claim

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has distanced himself from claims by disgraced former cabinet minister Chris Huhne that he was targeted by Rupert Murdoch's newspapers because he called for an inquiry into phone hacking.

Mr Huhne, who quit Parliament after being jailed for persuading his then wife to take his speeding points, claimed the News of the World hired a private investigator to gain information about an extra-marital affair which ultimately led to the break-up of his marriage after he spoke out about hacking.

The Liberal Democrat ex-energy secretary said that a second Murdoch title, the Sunday Times, then "groomed" his ex-wife Vicky Pryce until she told them about the speeding points.

But at his monthly Whitehall press conference, Mr Clegg made clear he did not accept his former colleague's theory. "Chris has to speak for himself," he said. "All I can tell you is that is his opinion. Is it exactly my opinion? No it isn't because, guess what, we're different people. I'm not Chris's keeper."

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Huhne questioned why in 2009 News International had been prepared to invest so much to tail a Lib Dem when the party was still in opposition. "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," he wrote.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Huhne acknowledged that he had made himself "vulnerable" by asking his wife to take speeding points which would otherwise have cost him his driving licence.

But he added: "Sometimes newspaper groups, media groups, have their own interests as well. Murdoch in particular is exceptionally powerful and over many, many years, he has played the person rather than the issue and he has also used that political influence to bulldoze a way for his business interests.

"Every time he's used his political power to get something that he wanted for his business, he's become more powerful and more difficult to resist."

Mr Huhne told BBC Two's Newsnight prison was an "extremely gruelling experience" despite newspaper claims about soft open prison regimes. "The reality is you lose your freedom and it's an enormous punishment and there's no doubt about that whatsoever," he said.

The former MP said he read works by French novelist and playwright Honore de Balzac and Hilary Mantel, famous for her novels chronicling the court of Henry VIII. Mr Huhne said: "I thought reading Hilary Mantel that it was absolutely splendid that I had been a disgraced minister in the 21st century rather than a Tudor one, because my head would probably have been on a spike in the Tower of London."


From Belfast Telegraph