Isabel Oakeshott, the Sunday Times journalist who convinced Vicky Pryce to go on the record about taking Chris Huhne’s speeding points, has today published her side of the story.
Oakeshott advised Pryce to record her ex-husband discussing the points, and their lengthy email correspondence was revealed in the trial which saw Pryce convicted of perverting the course of justice.
The email trail (which can be read in full here) is a must-read for press commentators and journalism students. It provides a rare real-life example of a senior journalist negotiating with a reluctant source to agree to publication.
Oakeshott’s piece in the News Review (£) adds some fascinating detail. She was clearly well aware of Pryce’s motivation in speaking to her:
It was now clear to me that Vicky had an agenda: she was out to get Chris Huhne. She didn’t need to spell it out: her willingness to show me confidential documents that mighthave revealed something compromising showed she wanted to do him damage. The more he compounded her misery by trying to pare down her divorce settlement, the more dangerous to him she was becoming.
In the emails, Pryce writes: “I just want the story out there so he has to resign.” Both she and Oakeshott refer regularly to the story bringing Huhne down, or proving “fatal”.
Initially, Oakeshott had convinced Pryce not to go to the Mail on Sunday, which had been chasing the story. In the emails, she refers to it as a “fairly downmarket” newspaper, and says it would seem “tawdry” to go there. She argues it would look mercenary for Pryce to accept money for the story: a reason to go with the Sunday Times, which would not pay her.
After the first story Oakeshott had negotiated with Pryce appeared in the Sunday Times – a piece which referred only to “someone” taking Huhne’s points – Pryce suddenly drops out of contact with the journalist.
That weekend I found out why: she had double-crossed me. While I was busy protecting her identity, she had been busy revealing all to a rival newspaper, The Mail on Sunday.
In Oakeshott’s view, dallying with both broadsheet and tabloid newspapers was part of what led to Pryce’s downfall. She had tried to get Pryce to agree to a follow-up in the Sunday Times, telling her: “I need your help. Please don’t tell me what I can’t write. Tell me what I CAN write.”
The other controversial aspect of the case tackled by Oakeshott in her piece is News International’s decision to hand over the “confidential” agreement Pryce had signed to the court, along with copies of their emails.
Handing over lengthy private email correspondence between myself and Vicky was an entirely different matter, however. I was horrified when it was requested by the police. While I do not believe those messages contained anything unprofessional, I would have chosen every word carefully if I’d known it would be for public consumption. The Sunday Times put up a vigorous fight in court. But eventually we were forced by a judge to give up the correspondence, along with copies of our written agreement with Vicky.
That decision will keep journalism ethics classes in material for years. Should Oakeshott and the Sunday Times have refused to reveal their source? Or was the public interest greater in them revealing it, and both Huhne and Pryce being convicted of their crime?