UK's coalition backs minister on driving ban claim

LONDON Mon May 16, 2011 6:03pm IST

Chris Huhne waits to deliver his speech at the Liberal Democrat Party's conference in Liverpool, northern England September 21, 2010. REUTERS/Phil Noble/Files

Chris Huhne waits to deliver his speech at the Liberal Democrat Party's conference in Liverpool, northern England September 21, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Phil Noble/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's ruling coalition backed environment minister Chris Huhne on Monday after police said they were studying career-threatening claims he dishonestly avoided a driving ban.

Huhne, one of the junior coalition partner Liberal Democrats' most senior politicians, denies allegations made by his estranged wife that he pressurised another person to take the blame for a speeding offence in 2003.

If proved, the claims could end the career of the former journalist and financial expert who has been seen as a potential successor to party leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Huhne is preparing to announce a legally binding deal to drastically cut greenhouse emissions and his departure would be a blow to Britain's climate change programme, as well as forcing an early reshuffle of cabinet positions.

The claims came to the fore this weekend as newspapers published accounts of a phone call between Huhne and the person alleged to have been asked to cover up his driving offence.

On Monday morning Huhne met with Clegg, a spokesman for the deputy prime minister said.

"Chris Huhne denied all the allegations and Nick has accepted that," the spokesman said.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron also gave Huhne his backing. Cameron's official spokesman said the prime minister had "full confidence" in Huhne.

Police in Essex, east of London, where the offence is said to have occurred, said they were investigating the reports.

"Officers will be working over the next few days to establish if this offence took place and the circumstances around it. Based on the evidence a decision will then be made (whether) to launch an investigation," an Essex police spokesman said.

Huhne said he welcomed the involvement of the police.

"These allegations are simply incorrect, they have been made before and they have been shown to be untrue, and I very much welcome the referral to the police, as it will draw a line under the matter," Huhne said.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft and Matt Falloon)

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