Diary: Round 1 to Sheridan in £200,000 legal fight with Murdoch


Tommy Sheridan, Scotland's best known left-wing firebrand, does not give up easily. He has only recently come out of prison after serving one year of a three-year sentence for perjury but was back in court yesterday, still battling against the Murdoch empire. The issue at yesterday's hearing was the £200,000 he was awarded after he successfully sued the News of the World for libel in 2006.

News Group, owners of the now defunct Sunday newspaper, has not paid and does not think it should have to, since Sheridan was convicted of lying during the libel trial. It has submitted an appeal to have the libel case reopened, but the appeal was frozen while Sheridan was facing a criminal trial. Yesterday, the company's solicitors asked three Scottish judges to allow it to go ahead.

But Sheridan's legal team argued that the appeal – or sist, to give it its legal name – should stay frozen awaiting the outcome of the police investigation into phone hacking, which is almost as big in Scotland as in London. The Court of Session agreed. The judge, Lord Clarke, ruled: "The appropriate course is to refuse the motion to recall the sist."

Tommy Sheridan's solicitor, Aamer Anwar, sounded pleased afterwards. He said: "It appears that the shoe is on the other foot. We were successful in requesting that proceedings remain sisted pending the outcome of criminal inquiries. The court's verdict was a kick in the face for News Group. If it was a boxing match, it would be Round 1 to us."

Fig leaves won't cover their blushes

It is the sort of problem that makes the Commons authorities wish for a fig leaf to cover their embarrassment. A Freedom of Information request has teased out new figures for the cost of the weeping fig trees of Portcullis House.

Portcullis is the large, glass-covered building across the road from Big Ben that looks like a giant radiator and cost an estimated £235m to build. When it opened 12 years ago, there was a minor scandal as it emerged that the 12 fig trees that adorned the central atrium did not belong to Parliament, but had been hired for five years at a cost of £150,000. The point of hiring, rather than buying was to spare the Commons authorities the responsibility of nursing the trees.

Yesterday, the London Evening Standard reported that their current rent is £32,500 a year, which means that they have cost at least £370,000 so far – more than £400,000 if VAT is added.

Not for nothing is it said that Portcullis House is Britain's most expensive office block.

Double meaning from the real Bard

The French Prime Minister, François Fillon, has twisted the dagger after that famous gaffe by François Hollande, Socialist contender for the presidency, who claimed to be quoting William Shakespeare when actually he was quoting the Bard's distant, living relative Nicholas. Briefed, possibly by his Welsh wife, Penny, Fillon told a rally in Paris: "Screw your courage to the sticking place, and we'll not fail" adding, to general guffaws – "and that's the real Shakespeare!"

Although one journalist observed: "It's a phrase used by Lady Macbeth when she's contemplating killing the king – so perhaps there's a message there for 'King' Sarko too."

A privatised send-off for Lady Thatcher?

The number of signatures on a petition on the Downing Street website to deny Margaret Thatcher a state funeral has just crept past the 30,000 mark.

It has nearly 70,000 to go if it is even to be considered as a suitable topic for a Commons debate, and somehow I don't think it would get on to the agenda even then, though there is a nice ironic touch to the petitioner's suggestion that privatising the funeral would be "an ideal way to cut government expense and further prove the merits of liberalised economics Baroness Thatcher spearheaded".

But that is nothing compared with the rapid progress of an e-petition to "Drop the Health Bill", which by late yesterday had easily surpassed the 100,000 needed to be a suitable subject for a Commons debate, having attracted almost 50,000 extra signatures in a little over a day.

It was launched by Dr Kailash Chand, who was a GP for 25 years. GPs are supposed to be the main beneficiaries of the Bill, because they will take over the commissioning budgets previously held by primary-care trusts. But Dr Chand argues: "GPs are not experienced in commissioning, many do not want to do it, and also it will take those very experienced GPs who do take the role away from providing patient care."

Beauty of a role for Emma

Emma Watson, the 21-year-old star of the Harry Potter films, is in "final negotiations" for a role in Guillermo del Toro's new production of Beauty and the Beast. As Beauty, of course, not the Beast.

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