POLITICS
09/09/2013 06:58 BST | Updated 09/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Chris Huhne: My Downfall Was 'Payback' For Murdoch Paper Hacking Probe

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Chris Huhne has claimed the media stories that led to his arrest and subsequent jail sentence were "payback" for his support into phone hacking allegations surrounding Rupert Murdoch's press.

The disgraced former cabinet minister admitted what he did was wrong in a column for The Guardian but remained defiant.

"It is an explanation, but not a defence, to point out that the AA's pollsters say 300,000 people have swapped speeding points and that it seemed like a minor matter back in 2003," he wrote.

Huhne, who quit Parliament after being jailed for persuading his then wife to take his speeding points, called on the Government to consider statutory limitations on newspaper ownership to increase media diversity and reduce Mr Murdoch's influence on the political process.

The ex-Energy Secretary also claimed that the News of the World hired a private investigator to put him under surveillance in 2009 to gain information about his affair after he spoke out about hacking. And he claimed that a second Murdoch newspaper, the Sunday Times, "groomed" his ex-wife Vicky Pryce until she told them about the speeding points.

"Why was News International prepared to invest so much to tail an opposition Liberal Democrat back in 2009?," he asked. "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.

"Given that I was falling in love with someone who was not my wife, you might think that it was an act of folly to court Murdoch's hostility, but the journalist in me rebelled. Publish and be damned. If I was not in Parliament to speak out when I saw an abuse, why was I there?

"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."

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.

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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.

"I don't have any issue with the fact that whatever happened I was fair game from the point of view of an investigation.

"That's exactly what would have happened anyway.

"All I'm pointing out is that the way in which this was specifically done was a very clear payback for the fact that I... wasn't able to resist going public on how the police should reopen the investigation into voicemail hacking and the Murdoch press.

"I was the only frontbencher to do that and maybe it's a coincidence that it's exactly at that time that... the News of the World didn' t just voicemail-hack me it actually put a full-time investigator onto tailing me.

"The odd thing is that, according to the chief reporter of the News of the World at the time, they sat on that story until after the general election, when at that time Murdoch was trying to get approval to buy the rest of BSkyB. You would have thought that if they knew that I was lying before the election then that's the time they should have run the story.

"I think the very clear implication here - just by the coincidence of when the investigation starts and the fact that the story is not run until substantially later - suggests that there is another agenda. It's not straight journalism, it's actually about the Murdoch press using the power that it has to pursue Rupert Murdoch's own business interests."

Mr Huhne said: "The point that I want to make is that actually for politicians it is a very different world to the world in which most people used to have to operate. I think that part of that has been the behaviour of the Murdoch press, which has had a pretty poor influence over the years on the general tenor of the media."

Urging the Government to consider changes to media ownership rules, he told The Guardian: "Ultimately, the new media aggression is not just a problem for those individuals directly affected, it is a problem for us all.

"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). It is not only votes that make a democracy, but voices too."