Defiant to the end, but Sheridan faces jail for swingers' club lies

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The Independent Online

Tommy Sheridan, the charismatic former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), was found guilty of perjury yesterday after he was judged to have lied his way to victory in a defamation case against a tabloid newspaper four years ago.

At the end of the longest perjury trial in Scottish legal history, which also proved to be one of the most colourful ever heard at Glasgow High Court, the jury concluded the 46-year-old had been dishonest during his libel action against the News of the World, which had accused him of committing adultery and visiting a sex club. He won £200,000 after winning the case in 2006.

After the 12 weeks of the trial, which heard evidence from more than 70 witnesses, a majority of the 12 women and two men of the jury ultimately rejected Sheridan's claim that he had been the victim of a political conspiracy. Instead, they concluded that the man who had been a member of the Scottish Parliament for eight years was attempting to deceive his way out of trouble for a second time, convicting him on five of the six perjury charges he faced. He was told he can now expect to go to jail when he is sentenced next month.

Drama was present from the start of proceedings, with Sheridan dispensing with the services of his widely respected Scottish counsel, Maggie Scott QC, to cross-examine witnesses himself. It was a decision that saw him clash directly with former friends, political allies and lovers.

Witnesses described how he admitted visiting a swingers' club, Cupids, in Manchester, on two occasions. On the first day of the perjury hearing, the court was told he had admitted to colleagues that he had made the visits.

In all, 16 witnesses – including the party's current leader, Colin Fox – described how Sheridan had admitted to the allegations at an emergency executive meeting of the SSP. Each time, Sheridan accused them of forming part of a political conspiracy to undermine him.

Former lovers also testified against him. Katrine Trolle flew in from Denmark to give her evidence, describing a four-year affair. She told the court about how she had sex with Sheridan in his marital bed, beneath a wedding photo. She said she had engaged in a threesome with Sheridan and his brother-in-law, Andrew McFarlane.

She also described going to Cupids club in Manchester with Sheridan, Mr McFarlane and Anvar Khan, a NOTW columnist who also appeared in court to reveal she had an on-off sexual relationship with Sheridan for eight years.

"I am guilty of thinking you had charisma and guilty of having sex with you, but I am not guilty of lying in court," Ms Trolle told Sheridan. Another bad-tempered exchange took place between Sheridan and George McNeilage, a former friend who had been best man at his wedding. Mr McNeilage had secretly filmed Sheridan incriminating himself and sold the tape to the NOTW.

"You are a fake, and you have shown that over the past few weeks by abusing your wife and putting her in the dock," Mr McNeilage told his old school friend. "You don't have real feelings."

Sheridan even summoned Andy Coulson, former NOTW editor and now director of communications at Downing Street, to the witness box. While Sheridan claimed Mr Coulson was involved in a conspiracy against him, he responded by saying the former politician was living in a "parallel world".

Even on the last day of the hearing, Sheridan refused to go down without a fight. In his final attempt to convince the jury, he gave a four-and-a-half-hour speech pleading with them not to separate him from his wife and daughter. "I'm frightened of you because you can do something that NOTW will never be able to do," he said. "You can separate me from my wife. You can make me break a promise to my daughter that I would spend Christmas with her."

Perjury charges against his wife, Gail, were dropped last Friday. Prosecutors reduced the number of perjury charges against Sheridan to help focus the deliberations of the jury. In the end, he faced accusations of lying about the SSP meeting in which he admitted having an affair and visiting a sex club, as well as lying about his affair with Ms Trolle.

Outside the court, Sheridan remained silent as his solicitor, Aamer Anwar, read a statement on his behalf. "I make no apology for taking on the might of Rupert Murdoch," it said. His wife, Gail, also spoke. "I have and will always stand by Tommy," she said. The pair then embraced.

The disgraced politician may yet face further legal action from the tabloid. It still has one outstanding appeal against the libel case it lost four years ago and is expected to pursue it.

The rise and fall of Tommy Sheridan

Tommy Sheridan became a prominent Scottish Socialist during the anti-poll tax campaigns. By 1998, he was leader of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), voted in as an MSP a year later.

It was in 2004 that the News of the World accusations of infidelity and visits to a sex club emerged. He stepped down as SSP leader, but successfully sued the paper for defamation in August 2006.

However, inconsistencies in the evidence given at the hearing led to charges of perjury in December 2007. He was convicted on five counts yesterday and will be sentenced next month.