Disaster for Tories as Pryce goes to re-trial

The Tories' best hope of radically changing their fortunes in the Eastleigh by-election was lying in pieces today, after the court case of Vicky Pryce was sent for a retrial.

The decision means the Conservatives cannot rely on a penal sentence on Chris Huhne being passed down until well after the by-election result.

Figures in the party had comforted themselves with the thought that the coverage surrounding Huhne's conviction would focus voters' minds on expelling the Liberal Democrats from the seat.

The jury failed to reach a verdict in the trial, amid signs they were struggling to understand the case or the requirements asked of them.

A list of the questions asked by the jury to the judge includes one example in which they asked if a juror can "come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it".

The judge answered: "The answer to that question is a firm no. That is because it would be completely contrary to the directions I have given you."

Read the Pryce jury questions in full

In another example, the jury asked if "religious conviction be a good enough reason for a wife feeling she had no choice ie she promised to obey her husband in her wedding vows, he ordered her to do something and she felt she had to obey?"

The judge answered: "This is not, with respect, a question about this case at all. Vicky Pryce does not say that any such reason formed any part of her decision to do what she did.

"Answering this question will not help you in any way whatsoever to reach a true verdict in this case. I must direct you firmly to focus on the real issues in this case."

Jurors also asked the judge to define the term 'reasonable doubt', to which he replied: "The prosecution must make you feel sure beyond reasonable doubt.

"A reasonable doubt is a doubt that is reasonable. These are ordinary English words that the law does not allow me to help you with, beyond the written directions."

After several days considering the case, the jury informed the judge they would not even be able to reach a majority verdict.

He then said: "Against the background of the length of time that you have been in retirement already, I have decided therefore, and it is my decision one way or the other, that I must discharge you from any further deliberations."

Pryce claimed a marital coercion defence against claims she took speeding penalties from her then husband. The former energy secretary has already pleaded guilty to the charge of perverting the course of justice.

Her retrial begins on Monday.