photo: Murdo MacLeod, Guardian
Many people are now gloating over the conviction of Tommy Sheridan on perjury charges. There are a fair number of questions to be asked about that trial though. The first, as asked by a Scottish QC, is why it was Sheridan who was on trial and not those who testified against him in his previous defamation case against the News of the World, which he won. The answer, as the QC points out, is that it’s about placating the News of the World, who are part of Murdoch’s media empire which he uses to buy political influence (1). The fact that most police officers favour the establishment and were annoyed at having to police sit down protests against Trident at Faslane probably has something to do with it as well.
The vindictive nature of the police campaign against the Sheridans was shown by their attempt to charge airline hostess Gail Sheridan for having a handful of miniature drinks in her house – charges which the Procurator fiscal threw out because they were so trivial; their raids on the Sheridans’ house and their attempts to intimidate Gail Sheridan by asking her who had trained here in “terrorist” or “IRA techniques” (2).
Detective Stuart Harkness said to Gail Sheridan “Gail, I must ask you at this time who has schooled you and asked you to focus on one point of the wall. I have interviewed people under the Terrorism Act and that is the kind of activity ... it’s recognised by the IRA, focus on the table, focus on the wall. Who has trained you? It’s a PIRA or IRA technique.” (3).
Bringing perjury charges is also extremely rare, even when it’s certain a witness or defendant has lied, as Ian Hamilton QC and many other lawyers have pointed out. The last perjury trial arising from a civil action in Scotland was over a decade ago. (4) – (5).
All the perjury charges against Gail Sheridan and six of the twelve allegations of perjury against Tommy were dropped during the trial (6) – (8). Does that mean we’ll see perjury charges against all the witnesses that testified in court that either Sheridan was guilty of those charges, including Andy Coulson, the former News of the World Editor (during the period of phone hacking by that paper) and now spin merchant for David Cameron, Andy Coulson? (9) – (10) If not, why not?
Another question is how much we can trust the word of many prosecution witnesses since we know from the testimony of prosecution witness George McNeilage that he accepted £200,000 from the newspaper for his dubious video – and that he had been convicted of burglary when he was 16 and again when he was 20 (11).
Anvar Khan testified that the News of the World and the publishers of a book she wrote (Black and White publishers, with business links to the News of the World) offered her money to lie about having ‘drunken sex’ with Sheridan and offered her more if she’d help entrap Sheridan in a phone conversation (she agreed to the former but refused the latter) (12).
So it’s extremely likely that the News of the World have bribed some other witnesses too.
If Sheridan did try to get his colleagues to lie in court, he was very seriously in the wrong, but there has been far too much News of the World money washing around on the one hand - and far too many political rivals looking for a way to bring him down on the other - for it to be certain that he did.
Even if Sheridan really is guilty of the remaining charges of perjury he was convicted of I’d still take his side against the News of the World and much of the rest of the media – e.g the Sunday Mail with it’s ‘Shamed politican rallies supporters headline’. The reason is that Sheridan at worst lied by claiming he had had concensual sex when he had (though if he did and then tried to make colleagues lie in court about it that’s much worse)..
There were no ‘Shamed politician’ or ‘disgraced politician’ headlines in any of these newspapers after Tony Blair and half his cabinet lied repeatedly to the entire country and soldiers that they sent (many to their deaths) to a war that didn’t need to be fought against a country that posed no threat to them, helping Bush get enough domestic support for a war that has led to hundreds of thousands of un-necessary deaths.
Tommy Sheridan never broke an election pledge to anyone. Never promised not to cut the Educational Maintenance Allowance, then did it anyway, like David Cameron (who also, along with most of his party, voted to go to war on Iraq), nor broke a key election pledge on tuition fees, like Nick Clegg.
Instead Tommy Sheridan, while in opposition, not government, got warrant sales of the possessions of the poorest, abolished (13).
Four of the five former Scottish Socialist MSPs who were elected along with Sheridan based on his popularity and his achievement of getting the feuding left wing factions to form a single party turned against him, claiming he has done far more to damage the cause of socialism than to promote it. They were part of the ironically named “United Left” faction within the SSP, beginning factionalism again almost the moment a single party was formed . They should face facts. They would never have been elected at all if it hadn’t been for Sheridan and there would never have been a united SSP for long enough for them to be elected if it wasn’t for Sheridan. They all lost their seats when they stabbed him in the back and Sheridan was the only one of them that came close to winning a seat in the last Scottish Parliament elections.
They may well have turned on him mainly because they were jealous of his high profile in the media and leapt on the News of the World allegations as a club to beat him with. Former SSP MSP Rosie Kane went on to imply that Sheridan, accused of lying about having a consensual threesome in a ‘swingers club’, had had sex with trafficked sex slaves, or else that if he had been to a swingers club that that was equivalent to having sex with sex slaves. According to one blog (one which took her side, not Sheridan’s) she said in court that “It was disgusting. Tommy, it was traumatic. I was working with women who had been caught up in a trafficked situation. This flew in the face of everything that we stood for…” (14). I can understand her viewpoint and even see how a swinger's club might be used as a legitimate seeming front for a brothel, but she had no evidence that was the case, nor are the two things comparable.
Granted, if there was any even partial truth in the allegations made against him Sheridan would have been far wiser to ignore them or dismiss them rather than take a defamation action .
However Colin Fox, Rosie Kane, Caroline Leckie and the rest were most likely determined to use the allegations to take the leadership from Sheridan. This may have been one of the reasons he went to court in the first place, along with fears for his marriage and the fact that many of the claims made by the newspaper were clearly false (and found to be false in both the defamation case and in his perjury trial, in which he was found not guilty on the majority of the charges, though guilty of a minority of them).
No doubt Sheridan is far from perfect, but then that’s true of everyone. If asked to choose between someone who had an affair or lied about having sex, or politicians who lie to start a war that kills hundreds of thousands, I’ll choose the one with the sex scandal every time. Anyone who thinks sex scandals are more important than getting people killed has their priorities very wrong. If he was conclusively proven guilty of trying to make colleagues perjure themselves, that would be far more serious.
(1) = The Firm 23 Dec 2010 ‘Her Majesty’s Advocate against The Sheridans - Online Exclusive by Ian Hamilton QC’,
(2) = Herald 22 Mar 2008 ‘'No charges' for Gail Sheridan over drink miniatures’, http://www.heraldscotland.com/no-charges-for-gail-sheridan-over-drink-miniatures-1.877085
(3) = Herald 03 Dec 2010 ‘Crown drops more Sheridan perjury charges’, http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/news/crime-courts/crown-drops-more-sheridan-perjury-charges-1.1072224
(4) = See (1) above
(5) = BBC News 23 Dec 2010 ‘Should Sheridan's perjury trial have been prosecuted?’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-12068925
(6) = Guardian.co.uk 24 Nov 2010 ‘Tommy Sheridan trial: prosecution drops four perjury charges’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/25/tommy-sheridan-trial-perjury-charges
(7) = BBC News 17 Dec 2010 ‘Gail Sheridan cleared of perjury charges’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-12020014
(8) = BBC News 20 Dec 2010 ‘Six perjury allegations against Tommy Sheridan dropped’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-12040484
(9) = guardian.co.uk 14 Oct 2010 ‘Andy Coulson called as witness in Tommy Sheridan perjury trial’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/14/andy-coulson-tommy-sheridan-trial
(10) = guardian.co.uk 1 Sep 2010 ‘Andy Coulson discussed phone hacking at News of the World, report claims’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/sep/01/andy-coulson-phone-hacking-allegations
(11) = Herald (Glasgow) 9 Nov 2010 ‘Witness paid to go on holiday by newspaper’,http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/crime-courts/witness-paid-to-go-on-holiday-by-newspaper-1.1066879
(12) = guardian.co.uk 29 Oct 2010 ‘Tommy Sheridan trial: columnist admits lying over sex claims’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/29/tommy-sheridan-trial-sex-claims
(13) = BBC News 6 Dec 2000 ‘MSPs abolish warrant sales’,http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/1058426.stm
(14) = The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow Uni 16 Oct 2010 ‘Tommy Sheridan case produces a ‘new star’, former MSP Rosie Kane easily defeats Sheridan in mano-a-mano legal mental combat, Sheridan floundering’,http://glasgowunihumanrights.blogspot.com/2010/10/tommy-sheridan-case-produces-new-star.html