British judge guilty of lying in case that toppled minister

LONDON (AFP) - A British judge was on Thursday found guilty of lying in a case that brought down government minister Chris Huhne.

Constance Briscoe, 56, a lawyer and part-time judge, was convicted of perverting the course of justice in connection with the downfall of Huhne, who resigned as Britain's energy secretary in 2012.

Liberal Democrat Huhne was jailed last year after he admitted perverting justice by passing speeding points to his then-wife Vicky Pryce in 2003 so that he would avoid a driving ban.

Pryce, a high-flying Greek-born economist, denied the charge but was found guilty by a jury and sent to prison.

Briscoe got involved with Pryce in a saga of bitter revenge after Huhne left his wife in 2010 for his aide.

At the Old Bailey court in London, the jury heard that Briscoe helped Pryce, her friend and neighbour, to leak information about Huhne's points-swapping to newspapers.

Huhne and Pryce both served a quarter of their eight-month prison sentences, and Briscoe was told she too could expect to go to jail.

"It's almost inevitable there will be a custodial sentence," said judge Jeremy Baker. Briscoe will be sentenced Friday.

Briscoe had initially presented herself to police as an objective witness in the case, but it later emerged that she had spoken frequently with Pryce and had contacted the newspapers.

The court heard the women had contacted each other at least 1,670 times between January 2011 and October 2012.

The jury accepted that she had deliberately given an altered a copy of a statement to the police, changing her testimony to suggest she had refused to speak to journalists about the story.

Emails handed over by newspapers later proved she had been in touch with reporters.

She then deliberately gave a different copy of the altered statement to an expert so he would find it was due to a printer malfunction, the prosecution said.

The political career of Huhne, who once stood against Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg for the leadership of the Liberal Democrat party, was destroyed by the case.

The former lawmaker, now a newspaper columnist, hailed the verdict.

"Constance Briscoe has been revealed as a compulsive and self-publicising fantasist," he said in a statement.

"British justice is likely to be a lot fairer with Briscoe behind bars. If I had not forced the disclosure that was then used to convict Briscoe, she would never have been brought to justice."

Police Detective Inspector John McDermott, who led the case, said the verdict showed nobody was "above the law".

"If anyone should understand the importance of preserving public justice it should be Constance Briscoe," he said.

"The overwhelming evidence uncovered by officers meant the jury had no choice but to find Ms Briscoe guilty."