‘If they’d treated a dog like dad, the RSPCA would have blown the hospital apart’: Families of victims of Stafford hospital scandal tell their stories
Families of victims of the Stafford Hospital scandal have revealed harrowing details of how their loved ones died. Here are some of their stories:
What I witnessed on the wards I will take to my grave:
Ellen Linstead, 67, died on December 13, 2006, of C.difficile and MRSA after being admitted with bone cancer. Her daughter Deb Hazeldine said wards were ‘filthy’ and she had to wash faeces off her mother’s hands.
She said she would arrive to the sound of her mother’s screams. When Mrs Linstead died she was so badly infected with C.difficile she had to be buried in a sealed body bag.
Mrs Hazeldine said: ‘What I witnessed on the wards I will take to my grave and it spurs me on to make sure it never happens again to anyone else.’
Nurses acted as if he wasn’t worth saving:
Peter Burnhill, 84, died on March 11, 2007, a week after being admitted with breathing problems. The former typographer, who had leukaemia, was left for six hours on a trolley in accident and emergency.
He discharged himself after being left with no food and suffering grazed shins, allegedly due to rough treatment by nurses.
His wife Sonia said: ‘Nurses acted as if he wasn’t worth saving. He came out of hospital visibly shaken and much weaker.’
Dad begged me not to complain – he feared they’d take it out on him:
Arthur Deakin, 77, died on September 17, 2007, suffering heart failure. On one occasion he was found by his wife in a diabetic coma, bleeding from his mouth, with nurses unaware.
Nurses also gave him the wrong insulin and were ‘downright rude’ when his daughter complained. Daughter Beverly Howell said: ‘One day I was so angry with what I was seeing that I said I would complain but Dad begged me not to because he feared they would take it out on him when we’d gone home.’
My husband was often lying in his own soiled bed sheets:
Arthur Peacham, 68, died on March 19, 2006, of C.difficile, after being put on a ‘filthy’ ward where 11 other patients were known to be infected. He was admitted with back pain after a hernia operation.
His wife Gillian said: ‘There were never any nurses and he was often lying in his own soiled bed sheets. They failed in their duty of care. If it had a been a dog being treated in that way the RSPCA would have blown the hospital apart.’
He should’ve had morphine but was only given Paracetamol:
George Dalziel, 64, died on August 8, 2007. He had polyps in his colon and bronchial pneumonia but was left in excruciating pain by doctors who gave him weak painkillers and left him underfed.
He was also left for days in blood-stained pyjamas after an operation. His wife Christine said: ‘He should have been given morphine on an epidural but was only given paracetamol.
‘I think in the end, because he was in so much pain and had lost so much weight, that he hadn’t got the fight in him any more – to fight the pain.’
Neglect left her so weak she was not fit to receive chemotherapy:
Joan Giles, 81, died on January 14, 2009 after being admitted for cancer treatment. She had lymphoma but this was originally misdiagnosed as kidney stones. She developed serious bed sores in hospital, was left without pain relief for hours and was severely dehydrated.
Son-in-law Roger Dobbing said: ‘Neglect left her so weak that by the time she got to the sixth session of chemotherapy she was not fit to receive treatment.’
Joan Giles, 81, was admitted to Stafford Hospital for cancer treatment but died after suffering severe bed sores:
Kath Mountford was allegedly not seen by a doctor in the seven days she was in hospital before she died
‘Not seen by a clinician’ during seven days she was in hospital
Kath Mountford, 78, died on December 11, 2007, of pneumonia, after suffering a fall and hitting her head when left to use a commode without help from staff. She was admitted with shingles but was allegedly not seen by a clinician during the seven days she was in hospital.
Her daughter Jenny Goring said: ‘I believe that the fall left her shaken and damaged her lung. She was never the same again.’
Doctors may as well have been working on a production line:
Nyah Kate Lintern, died aged just four days, after being allowed home despite a heart defect having been diagnosed
Mother Kelsey Lintern, 35, said: ‘The doctors may as well have been working on a production line. That’s how patients are treated there.’
Left for three hours in an assessment ward:
Archibald Griffiths, 88, died on April 4, 2008. He was admitted with angina and died of a heart attack after being left for three hours in an assessment ward without being seen by a doctor.
His daughter Anne Bayliss said: ‘Either there was no doctor available or he wasn’t a priority.’
Food was left for her when they knew she couldn’t feed herself:
Rose Morris, 96, died on May 22, 2007, deteriorating suddenly after being ‘neglected’ for three weeks by hospital staff.
Her son Phil said: ‘She wasn’t washed and food was left for her when they knew she couldn’t feed herself.’
I had to feed my wife myself:
Annice Guest, 73, died on February 25, 2008 after being admitted five weeks earlier with a minor infection and dementia. She was left ‘seriously dehydrated’ for three hours in A&E and eventually died of pneumonia.
Widower Jeffrey said: ‘I was left to feed my wife myself.’
One former patient, Boris from Ilminster, Somerset, told the BBC News website: ‘I have both seen and been on the other end of bad hospital care.
‘I had to have spinal surgery and wasn’t allowed to sit up for two days following the operation, food was left out of reach. It took over an hour for healthcare staff to answer my alarm when I needed to use the bathroom and they didn’t clean the sheets, bed or the ward in the entire eight days of my stay.’
Hospital staff claimed cruel practices were prevalent on wards across the country, warning others would be feeling ‘very nervous’.
Nurse Belle, from Belfast, told MailOnline: ‘I find management only want to know about meeting targets. They do not care for staff or their patients.
‘Management are not listening when we have been saying for so long our patients are in danger we cannot cope, there are times I’ve felt so let down… we need good management and more staff now.’
James Moore, who left the NHS after working in a different hospital’s A&E department for 15 years, told the BBC Today programme that reports of abuse at Stafford Hospital made him ‘ashamed to be a nurse’. He said it was ‘human nature’ to care for patients but institutional failures at Stafford had caused staff to become severely overworked, leading to ‘shocking’ neglect.
Another nurse who works at a different NHS hospital told the programme she had seen horrific manhandling of patients by older nurses, who had ‘lost their compassion over time’. The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, added: ‘Food would be left out of the reach of patients and then removed before they could eat it.’
A surgeon at another hospital described how a new breed of nurses were increasingly disinterested in caring for patients. ‘The starting point for nurses 20 or 30 years ago was they wanted to care. The starting point now is to get a degree,’ he said.
Also on the show, a midwife warned that standards in hospitals across the UK remain akin to that of a Third World country.
The ex-communist NHS chief, the young wife he fast-tracked and a very lavish lifestyle
As a young NHS trainee at the height of the Cold War, David Nicholson idolised Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. At the same time as starting work in a mental health unit, the Bristol University graduate joined the Communist Party in 1977.
He was no ordinary revolutionary. He was on the hardline, so-called ‘Tankie’ wing of the party which backed the Kremlin using military action to crush dissident uprisings.
Today, David Nicholson is the £270,000-a year chief executive of the NHS. The one-time radical who used to regard political honours as elitist symbols of bourgeoisie government was happy to be knighted in 2010.
Nicknamed the ‘Big Beast’ of the NHS because of his abrasive management style, his rise up the management ladder saw him take control of the strategic health authority responsible for supervising Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2006.
It was during this period that patients needlessly died because of appalling standards of care.
Today’s damning report into the scandal could yet bring an end to his career – during which he forced through the last Labour government’s controversial ‘target culture’ that fatally undermined the ethos of care that has traditionally been a hallmark of NHS hospitals.
It has been a remarkable journey for a man who was a Communist for six years until his membership lapsed in 1983.
Critics say that the ‘uncaring culture’ that has developed in some aspects of healthcare can be likened to the one that prevailed during the godless Soviet regimes.
But Nicholson, 57, won’t discuss his Communist past.
It’s not clear if he abandoned Communism to further his career, or because his views mellowed. But one thing is certain: Nicholson has always done his political masters’ bidding.
As chief executive of Doncaster Royal Infirmary in the 1990s, when the Major government was in power, he was part of one of the first health trusts to break away from the control of Whitehall, amid fierce opposition from Labour and the unions.
After a series of senior regional posts, in 2006 he became NHS chief executive under Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Nicholson was expected to quit when the Tory-led Coalition came to power in 2010, but he was given additional responsibilities. However, his stewardship of the NHS since the election has been mired in controversy.
He refused to cancel a major NHS IT project which became a monument to Whitehall folly when it was clear that costs were out of control. Eventually it was cancelled at a loss to the taxpayer of £12.7billion.
Despite such a scandalous waste of money, Nicholson escaped blame and still enjoys the confidence of David Cameron (the third PM he’s served).
Not all Tories, though, are so impressed. MP Steve Barclay, a member of the Commons Public Accounts committee, says: ‘We had a major NHS IT programme that went spectacularly wrong. David Nicholson was the accounting officer. What scale of blunder do you have to make before you are held accountable for failure?’
Similar questions have been asked of his role in the Coalition’s botched Health Reform Bill. There were a series of anonymous and particularly poisonous briefings from within the Department of Health about the then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s handling of the legislation. In due course, the draft bill was postponed after it was deemed to be confused and overly complex.
Nicholson remained in post while Lansley was replaced as Health Secretary.
Within weeks, Nicholson was warning that ‘high-profile, politically-driven changes almost always end in misery and disaster’. These comments broke the Whitehall convention that civil servants criticise policy only in private, not in public. But Nicholson is a law unto himself. ‘No one crosses him. He’s like a ruthless omnipotent medieval Pope,’ said one senior official.
Incidentally, relations between Nicholson and Lansley had never recovered after the minister spotted the civil service chief travelling first class by train to a conference when Lansley himself was going to the same meeting, but in second class.
But then Nicholson loves travelling first class. On Saturday, the Mail disclosed that he racked up nearly £6,000 in 41 first-class train tickets in a year to Birmingham.
Each time he claimed to have been ‘attending official meetings’ but, in fact, they were held via video-conferencing, meaning he could have taken part from anywhere in the country. MPs have indicated that they will ask Nicholson to justify the expenditure.
Many of the trips spanned ‘long weekends’, prompting speculation he was going to his see his new young wife at their home in Birmingham.
Divorced with two grown-up sons, Nicholson had earlier got engaged in 2009 to Sarah-Jane Marsh, the chief executive of Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
It was not just the 22-year age gap which caused consternation. It was also the fact Nicholson met her while she was seconded to his office as a junior.
Nicholson, then director of Health and Social Care for the Midlands and East of England, took a shine to the attractive graduate trainee, acting as her mentor.
He also gave her two job references – the second leading to her appointment as chief operating officer at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. She was in the job when the Health Care Commission delivered a devastating report over a catalogue of patient failures at the hospital.
Two years later, despite the criticism, she became chief executive on a £155,000 salary, at the relatively youthful age of 32. By this time she was engaged to Nicholson – the all-powerful head of the NHS.
For his part, Nicholson has told NHS trusts to deliver between £15billion and £20billion in efficiency savings before 2014 (the equivalent of to up to 6 per cent of the current NHS budget).
Meanwhile, his own personal spending included £155,000 worth of expenses in four years. His annual expenses for his plush London flat was triple the MPs’ second homes allowance.
He gave up the property on condition that taxpayers covered any hotel bills incurred and despite the fact he chose to live in Birmingham. He also has a chauffeur-driven car.
British Labour Party is the elite ‘Downton Abbey party’, Michael Gove claims in row over who is on the side of working class students
Labour is today cast as the ‘Downton Abbey party’ which refuses to back opportunities for poorer people which have been enjoyed by the political elite.
Education Secretary Michael Gove is to use a speech to accuse Ed Miliband of reacting to the idea of increasing the aspirations of students with the ‘horror’ of the Earl of Grantham in the ITV drama to the news that a chauffeur wanted to marry his daughter.
In a surprise reversal of class-based political attacks, Mr Gove will claim Labour believes working class pupils should ‘stick to their station in life’ and not enjoy the elite Oxford education enjoyed by the party’s leadership.
Labour leader Ed Miliband’s reaction to raising aspirations for working class students is likened to when Downton’s Earl of Grantham learned his daughter wanted to marry a chauffeur
In a speech to the Social Market Foundation tonight, Mr Gove will defend the Government’s English Baccalaureate measure, which recognised students who secured at least a C grade in English, Maths, two sciences, a language and a humanities subject.
The measurement, introduced two years ago, had been greeted with ‘visceral horror’ from the Labour party and the unions, he is expected to say.
‘How dare anyone – let alone the Department for Education – reveal how many state school students were getting the sort of education that enables the children of the rich to dominate British life?’
The eBacc inspired opposition ‘because it revealed how poorly served so many state students were’, he will say.
Mr Gove claims the attitude among the Labour leadership is like that of the landed gentry in ITV’s landed gentry, who do not believe that the working classes and the servants should enjoy the same privileges that they do.
He will contrast the privileged education of Mr Miliband, shadow chancellor Ed Balls and shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg who all studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford with the lack of ambition for students from poorer backgrounds.
And he will draw on the explosive storyline when the Earl of Grantham discovered Lady Sybil was running away to marry Irish chauffeur Tom Branson.
‘At the moment just 16 per cent of students in the state sector secure the EBacc. Only 23 per cent are even entered for it. More than three-quarters of state school students have been denied access to the qualifications which will empower them to choose their own path,’ he will say.
‘But for Labour that’s not only no cause for concern – it’s a truth which should be suppressed.
‘The current leadership of the Labour Party react to the idea that working class students might study the subjects they studied with the same horror that the Earl of Grantham showed when a chauffeur wanted to marry his daughter.
‘Labour, under their current leadership, want to be the Downton Abbey party when it comes to educational opportunity.
‘They think working class children should stick to the station in life they were born into – they should be happy to be recognised for being good with their hands and not presume to get above themselves.’
Mr Gove will say that claims of ‘rapid and relentless educational improvement’ under Labour which saw GCSE results soar have been ‘shown up as a far more complex narrative of inequality and untapped potential’.
He will add: ‘But instead of using this information to demand that poorer children at last enjoy the education expected by the privileged, far too many on the left attacked the very idea that poor children might aspire to such an entitlement.’
Labour hit back tonight, insisting there remains widespread opposition to the plans.
Mr Twigg said: ‘Michael Gove is clearly rattled by the widespread opposition to his EBacc exams. Instead of lecturing others, he should listen to business leaders, entrepreneurs, headteachers and parents who think his plans are backward looking and narrow.
‘We need to get young people ready for a challenging and competitive world of work, not just dwell on the past.’
You can’t pick ‘n’ mix your cultures when living in the UK, immigrants told
Immigrant communities cannot adopt a ‘pick ’n’ mix approach’ to living in a liberal democracy, a Home Office minister will insist today. Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne will attack multicultural doctrines which have meant the state turning a blind eye to so-called ‘honour crimes’, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
He will condemn ‘misplaced cultural sensitivities’ for a failure to tackle such issues in Britain.
Speaking at an event in the House of Lords, Mr Browne will warn that ‘thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands’ of women and girls in this country are not enjoying the proper ‘benefits of living in our liberal society’.
He will add: ‘That is not because of some accident or oversight. It is because of a deliberate rejection of the emancipation revolution and the equal opportunities now afforded to women and girls.
‘This situation is wrong. It is unacceptable for the individual women and girls whose freedom and opportunities are stifled.
‘And it is wrong for our society. There cannot be a pick’n’mix approach to living in a benign liberal country. The benefits must be universal, without exceptions or exemptions.
‘I do not believe that cultural relativism provides an excuse to opt out of our shared liberal social settlement. Everyone should enjoy the freedom to make their own choices, without the fear of social coercion.’
Mr Browne will insist that forced marriage has ‘no place’ in British society, pointing out that the victims are ‘overwhelmingly young women and girls’.
Up to 8,000 young women a year are being pushed into marriage without their consent in Britain, it is feared. Their families are mainly from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and East Africa.
Currently, the authorities have to try to prove that other laws, such as kidnapping, false imprisonment, harassment or assault, have been broken by those responsible.
But Mr Browne will say the Coalition will create a specific criminal offence making it illegal to force a child or grandchild into a marriage against their wishes.
Ministers argue a blind eye has been turned to extremism for too long for fear of offending minorities.
Some schools have even refused to put up posters advising pupils about forced marriage for fear of causing offence or being branded racist.
Mr Browne will also express alarm about the ‘abhorrent’ practice of female genital mutilation, citing evidence that around 20,000 girls in Britain are at risk.
Vote on homosexual marriage passes first stage in UK
With the help of Labor and Liberal votes. A majority of Conservatives voted against
The British parliament has voted to legalise gay marriage, after an afternoon of passionate argument.
More than 70 MPs had their say in a lively, but mainly polite and very British debate, as hidebound tradition and Anglican values clashed with the principles of “live and let live” and equality.
Both sides emphasised respect for other points of view, despite deep divisions.
One MP cited Shakespeare, another Orwell, another Elton John, and one talked about the importance of allowing everyone, regardless of sexual preference, the opportunity of a long-lasting marriage – even if it descends into “bickering over the biscuits”.
The bill passed its second reading vote at 6.15am Wednesday, Australian time, with 400 in favour and 175 against.
It will now go to a committee for detailed examination starting next week
After that, it is predicted that it will pass the House of Commons with strong support from Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs. The Conservative party, however, is torn down the middle on the issue.
Britain already has civil partnerships between gay and lesbian couples. The new law would allow marriage in civil ceremonies and in religious ceremonies if a church allows it.
Prime Minister David Cameron – who was absent from the house when the debate began – allowed his colleagues a conscience vote on the issue.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller introduced the second reading of the bill with a matter-of-fact speech aimed at countering the concerns of many of her own colleagues, who frequently interrupted her asking about the impact on schools and religious freedoms.
“Every marriage is different,” she said. “The depth of feeling, love and commitment is no different between same-sex couples.
“Marriage should be defended and promoted.”
In a heartfelt speech, Labour MP and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said “we all love a good wedding”, with its “cloud of confetti” and rubber chickens – and also loved the idea of a long, stable marriage where partners still care for each other “even while bickering over the biscuits”.
“For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health – that is marriage,” she said. “Marriage has changed many times before and society hasn’t collapsed.
“It has to remain in tune with the values of every generation … (I) hope opponents will look back in 10 years and won’t be able to remember what the fuss was all about.”
However many Conservative voices, and several Labour ones, were raised in opposition to the proposed law.
Some said they were angry that opponents of the bill were being branded homophobic or “barking (mad)”.
MP Tony Baldry said the bill would end marriage as it had been understood “for all recorded time”. Robert Flello said the bill would create inequality because there would be two forms of marriage, traditional and same-sex.
Jim Dobbin said marriage was designed to support the bearing and raising of children, and the bill would dilute its meaning. Craig Whittaker said the move would make marriage a “partnership model”, eroding its full purpose.
And Roger Gale agreed that it was “Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian almost, for any government to come along and try to rewrite the lexicon” – before suggesting an alternative law that recognised a “civil union” that could include siblings.
More expressed fear that religious people and organisations would be pushed into a legal minefield if the law went through.
However Labour MP Toby Perkins said there was a fundamental principle that each party shared: “we basically live and let live, we let people get on with their lives.”
Liberal Democrat Stephen Gilbert said as a gay man who grew up in working class Cornwall, he knew the importance that parliament “send a clear signal that we value everybody equally”.
Conservative Nick Herbert mocked others who feared marriage would be undermined. “What are heterosexual couples going to say? ‘Darling our marriage is over, Sir Elton John has just gotten married to David Furnish’?”
And Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, the son of an Anglican vicar and himself in a civil partnership, said objection to the bill was “residual prejudice against same-sex relationships”.
Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “Edgar in King Lear said ‘stand up for bastards’. I believe we should stand up for gay people and gay rights.”
The bill is predicted to get a less wholehearted welcome in the House of Lords, which is dominated by life peers. However it can only reject the law once: if the House of Commons passes it again in the next session, it cannot reject it again.
Giving free speech in Britain a hammering
It’s time to lift the wig on all the libertarian posturing: judge-sanctioned free speech is not free at all
It’s often said that the UK judiciary is out of touch. But just how out of touch with reality some judges actually are still beggars belief. Take for example Lord Justice Leveson, who responded to criticism from education minister Michael Gove that he was chilling free speech by claiming, ‘I don’t really need any lessons in freedom of speech, Mr Gove, really I don’t’. Leveson then swiftly produced proposals which, if implemented, would do more to restrict the freedom of the press than any legislation has done in a long while.
Yet Leveson’s delusions aren’t a patch on those of Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions (DPP). Starmer is currently consulting on guidelines for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which will supposedly help it to work out when it is appropriate to prosecute people for tweets, postings on Facebook and messages on other social media sites. Incredibly, despite this current role formulating online speech regulations, Starmer seems to see himself as a defender of free speech. So, reacting to the fact that prosecutions for ‘offences’ on social-media sites have increased by 780 per cent over the past four years, Starmer declared in a Sky News interview: ‘I think that if there are too many investigations and too many cases coming to court, then that can have a chilling effect on free speech.’
Starmer’s comments were largely welcomed on Twitter, with people tweeting that they were ‘helpful’, that Starmer ‘underlines [the] ludicrous use of law’, and that his comments ‘add weight to the free-speech argument’. A legal correspondent for the New Statesman claimed it was ‘a step forward’. ‘Starmer finally gets it?’, tweeted a lecturer in media law from the London School of Economics.
But what does Starmer actually get? From his comments, he claims to understand the spontaneous nature of certain tweets: ‘Stuff does go up on a Friday and Saturday night and comes down the next morning.’ In such instances, when someone has quickly recognised the error of their tweets and deletes them, Starmer believes leniency should be shown, stating that ‘those sort of remarks don’t necessarily need to be prosecuted’. He continues: ‘This is about trying to get the balance right, making sure time and resources are spent on cases that really do need to go to court, and not spent on cases which people might think really would be better dealt with by a swift apology and removal of the offending tweet.’
Throughout the interview, it is evident that Starmer’s main concern is not with preserving free speech, but rather with how to use the threat of prosecution to encourage people to think before they tweet. And, if people are too hot-headed (or drunk) to tweet responsibly, he wants to incentivise rapid retractions and hasty apologies. To be more lenient, Starmer warns, is in no way a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’.
What kind of person views the freedom to say what’s on your mind without fear of repercussions as a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’? Such comments put paid to any idea that Starmer is an advocate of free speech. He clearly does not believe people should be able to speak freely. He makes this very clear: Twitter, he says, is not a place where people can ‘go and say what they like’.
Bizarrely, Starmer’s consultation is being viewed in some quarters as a return of ‘common sense’. The acceptance of, and indeed support for, the CPS’s consultation indicates the shift towards accepting that the state has the right to regulate speech and communication. The fact that fewer people may be prosecuted as a result does not mean that something is not fundamentally awry. Why, after all, should judges have any right to determine which tweets or Facebook posts should land us in the slammer? Why should the duration our tweets survive online be any business of the law? That the upshot of the consultation may be a little more freedom to vent drunkenly online should not detract from the fact that it shouldn’t be a judge’s place to grant us such freedom in the first place.
A consultation aiming to clarify the boundaries of what we can safely say should be given no legitimacy. Judge-sanctioned free speech is no free speech at all.
How a British Liberal thought he was above the ‘little people’ who abide by the rules
By Stephen Glover
Twenty months ago, I had lunch with my old university chum Chris Huhne. Without qualification or hesitation, he told me he had not asked his former wife, Vicky Pryce, to take speeding points for him in March 2003.
It was hard to believe this because the evidence seemingly stacked up against him. Nonetheless, when an old friend looks you in the eye and assures you that he is innocent, you want to believe him. I certainly did.
Now Mr Huhne has announced that he was guilty after all. In the great scheme of things, his lie to me was of microscopic importance, though that does not prevent it from being a little painful. It is the enormity of the lie to everyone else that is so amazing.
In falsely maintaining his innocence, he has lied to the Prime Minister, his Liberal Democrat colleagues and his constituents. He has also lied to the judge at Southwark Crown Court, to whom he made a ‘not guilty’ plea as recently as last week.
Most serious of all, he has lied to the country as a Minister of the Crown. When he resigned from the Cabinet almost exactly a year ago, he stood in front of television cameras and informed the nation that he was innocent of ‘deeply regrettable’ charges and intended to ‘fight them in the courts’.
Consider the waste of money – much of it public money -and time and energy that followed from his decision to try to turn truth on its head. Months have been spent in legal wrangles as his expensive lawyers tried in vain to get the case struck off for this or that reason.
Mr Huhne knew he was guilty but was prepared to move heaven and earth in order to convince the rest of us that he wasn’t. He could have – and obviously should have – admitted his guilt, taken his punishment, and opened the way to the possibility of redemption and ultimate political rehabilitation.
Instead, he chose to pursue this great time-consuming and exhausting lie until, for reasons that are not yet wholly clear, he finally realised that he could not, or would not, maintain the fiction in a court of law. He has succeeded in turning a relatively minor crime – asking his wife to accept his speeding points – into a major one.
This was a display of hubris and ego that is utterly bewildering to most people. It is bewildering to me, too, though I thought I knew Chris Huhne moderately well. Of course, his strong ambition was always plain to see, but ambition is not a sin.
He used to be a journalist, and would have been as remorselessly critical of a mendacious Cabinet minister as the world will now be of him. He certainly once believed that it was the duty of the Press to hold the mighty to account.
Yet as a politician a darker side emerged. During his short career between becoming an MP in 2005 and a Cabinet Minister in 2010, Mr Huhne won a reputation for ruthlessness among Lib Dem colleagues. During the party’s leadership campaign in 2007, someone on his team, and very possibly he himself, gave his rival Nick Clegg the nickname that has stuck of ‘Calamity Clegg’.
Once in office, he immediately embraced a rise in student tuition fees, which he had strenuously opposed during the election, and as Energy Secretary quickly backed nuclear power, which he had previously vetoed.
He picked ugly fights with Tory Cabinet ministers, and leaked a story calculated to embarrass the Home Secretary Theresa May, later denying that he had done so.
There were suspicions, too, on the expenses front – not so much in the Parliamentary scandal, where his worst offence seemed to be claiming a trouser press, as in his constituency. Lib Dem aides were taped apparently admitting that they had misled the authorities over his 2010 general election expenses.
Huhne always maintained that he had no reason to believe there were any irregularities.
Power changed him. Or, rather, flaws of character which in another walk of life might not have been lethal were transformed, so that he came to believe he was unlike the ‘little people’. In search of ever greater power, he ignored the tiresome little conventions such as honesty which govern their lives.
We have seen many politicians declare their innocence, often while inveighing against the Press….
Chris Huhne is looking at a probable prison sentence for perverting the course of justice. The lessons I draw are that our political class contains more than its fair share of miscreants, and that without the vigilance of newspapers we would never know what they get up to.
Over the past 24 hours, the now defunct News of the World has barely been mentioned. But it was this much abused Sunday red-top which exposed Chris Huhne’s extra-marital affair with Carina Trimingham (he had campaigned during the 2010 election as a family man). Without it, we would never have known about Mr Huhne’s perverting the course of justice, and he would still be bossing us about and telling us what to do.
For all its sins, the News of the World did expose the financial and moral shenanigans of politicians. After the Leveson Inquiry, some members of the political class are lining up to do their utmost to make it more difficult for other newspapers to do the same.
If we can be sure that without the News of the World, Chris Huhne would still be lording it over us in the Department of Energy, we also have good reasons for wondering whether in a post-Leveson world it would be possible for newspapers to expose the mass fiddling of expenses by MPs.
As a citizen, I rejoice that we still have newspapers, as well as a judiciary, that have held him to account. As his old friend, I regret the personal tragedy he has caused, and which he must endure without the support of the wife and family who once loved him.