He was driven by ambition.
She was motivated by revenge. As Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce begin their prison sentences today they will have plenty of time to ponder the self-induced tragedy that landed them both in the dock at Southwark Crown Court yesterday.
Their offence appears trivial: in 2003, Ms Pryce, the former energy secretary's then wife, agreed to take three speeding points on her husband's behalf so that he could avoid a driving ban. A survey five years ago suggested that as many as 500,000 people in the UK have done the same thing for a friend or family member. So is easy to do.
However, this is a serious offence. First, it is not a victimless crime. Driving bans are intended to make bad drivers better and protect other road users. Speed is a factor in many serious and fatal road accidents. Those who repeatedly drive too fast need to be taken off the road, not protected by misguided spouses, relatives or friends.
Secondly, as the judge made clear yesterday, lying repeatedly about an alleged offence strikes at the very heart of the criminal justice system. It may not be as serious as tampering with evidence or intimidating witnesses but it still amounts to perverting the course of justice. If people feel free to behave in this way, such things, the justice system is undermined.
Some argued that, in the course of their mutual destruction, these two people had suffered enough and that no obvious public interest was served by imprisonment. However, exemplary sentences for such crimes act as a reminder to the general public of the gravity of the offence. And it sends the message that everyone is equal before the law. Another reason for sending someone to jail is deterrence. Surely, more drivers will now think twice about taking someone else's points.
Mr Huhne has paid the price for his hubris. Right up to the point when he changed his plea, he believed he would soon return to government, as David Laws has done. He was marginally more culpable than his ex-wife, as he had more to gain and was prepared to spin a web of lies to escape justice. He would have received a stiffer sentence had he not finally changed his plea and saved the public expense of a trial, though only after months of expensive legal wrangling, for which he should pay.
It is not surprising that Ms Pryce failed in her attempt to use marital coercion as a defence. Though she was extremely upset by the break-up of their marriage in 2010, this high-flying economist, who harboured ambitions of joining the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, ultimately made an unconvincing victim. And, unlike her ex-husband, she showed no remorse. This sorry saga of rage and betrayal is a personal tragedy for this family and a warning for anyone contemplating swopping speeding points.
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