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UK energy secretary faces criminal charge

Published: 2:06PM Saturday February 04, 2012 Source: Reuters

  •  (Source: Reuters)
    Chris Huhne makes a statement to the media outside his flat in Clerkenwell. - Source: Reuters

British Energy Secretary Chris Huhne resigned on Friday after being told he would be charged with perverting the course of justice over a 2003 speeding offence, in a huge blow to his Liberal Democrat party.

"To avoid any distraction to either my official duties or my trial defence, I am standing down and resigning as energy and climate change secretary," Huhne said in a short statement less than an hour after the decision to charge him was made public.

Huhne was swiftly replaced by fellow Lib Dem MP Ed Davey.

The controversy stems from an allegation that after committing a speeding offence in 2003 in Essex he asked his then wife Vicky Pryce to take the blame so that he would not lose his driving licence.

"We have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Mr Huhne and Ms Pryce for perverting the course of justice," Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said in a televised statement.

Starmer said the pair would appear for a preliminary hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London on February 16.

Huhne says he is innocent and in his resignation letter to Prime Minister David Cameron he pledged to mount a "robust defence".

In his response to Huhne's letter, Cameron thanked him for his role in negotiating the coalition agreement and said he could be "justly proud" of his record in government.

"You played a key role in securing the progress made at the Cancun and Durban summits (on climate change), and I pay tribute to the leadership you showed at both," Cameron wrote.

More misery for lib dems

Cameron's warm words will be of little comfort to Huhne as his political career implodes with maximum embarrassment for his party.

The centre-left Liberal Democrats have had a bumpy ride since they formed the coalition with the right-wing Conservatives in May 2010.

Their popularity has plummeted on a widespread perception that they abandoned several key campaign pledges.

Huhne's resignation follows that of David Laws, one of the party's leading lights, who quit over an expenses scandal in 2010 after just 17 days as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.