Ex-MSP Sheridan and wife facing perjury charges

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The Independent Online

Former Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan and his wife Gail walked hand in hand into court yesterday to face perjury charges following his newspaper defamation case.

The couple, from Glasgow, formally entered pleas of not guilty to the charges at a preliminary hearing at the High Court in Edinburgh.

The trial was set to begin on January 11 next year at the High Court in Glasgow.

Today was the first time the case had been called in a public court since the couple, both 45, were served with legal papers confirming that the prosecution would go ahead.

Sheridan was arrested in December 2007 after a probe into allegations of lying under oath during his successful £200,000 action against the News of the World at the Court of Session in the Scottish capital.

His wife was charged with perjury by police in February last year.

The Sunday tabloid had published allegations about Sheridan's private life, including claims that the then-Socialist MSP was an adulterer who had visited a swingers' club.

Police later carried out an investigation into allegations of lying under oath during the civil action at the Court of Session in the Scottish capital.

The couple were charged with perjury when they appeared in private at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in March last year.

Yesterday was the first time the case had called at the High Court.

The couple have always denied the allegations and criticised the way police handled the investigation.

The 23-day defamation action trial led to a split in the Scottish Socialist Party, with Sheridan later establishing the rival party Solidarity.

Neither he nor his former colleagues were returned to Holyrood in the May 2007 elections.

The couple were met outside court by more than a dozen supporters, many of them holding Solidarity banners.

Mrs Sheridan, who wore an all-black dress suit for the occasion, held her husband's hand as they entered the court building.

During the hearing it emerged that the trial could last between two and three months.

The Crown estimated that it will take 40 days, while Paul McBride QC, representing Mrs Sheridan, said a period of three months would perhaps be more realistic.

Based on the Crown's estimate alone, it would be the longest perjury case in Scottish legal history, he said.

Speaking outside court, solicitor Aamer Anwar confirmed that a trial date was set and that not-guilty pleas were entered to charges of perjury.

He said: "They maintain their innocence and are determined to fight this.

"In court today, significant matters were raised by the defence. As proceedings are live it would be inappropriate to comment further upon them."

The seven-page indictment contains three charges in total, two of which are broken down into a number of sub-sections.

Sheridan faces one charge of perjury and another charge of attempting to persuade someone else to commit perjury. His wife faces one charge of perjury.

The first charge against the former MSP alleges that he tried to get Colin Fox, who was to be called as a witness in the defamation action, to commit perjury.

It is alleged he did so in a meeting with Mr Fox, a Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) member, at an Edinburgh cafe on June 18 2006, shortly before the action was due to get under way.

The charge alleges that he admitted to a 2004 meeting of the executive committee of the SSP that he had attended a swingers' club, Cupid's Health Club in Manchester, on two occasions.

It is claimed that, knowing accurate minutes of the meeting existed and had been lodged with the court, he tried to get Mr Fox to claim that the minutes of the meeting were not accurate.

The second charge against Sheridan alleges that he made various false statements when he was a witness in the defamation action on July 21 2006.

The charge alleges he did so knowing that the truth was that he had admitted at the SSP executive committee meeting to attending Cupid's on two occasions.

It also alleges that 10 separate witnesses had not lied in evidence when they each gave evidence that they heard Sheridan admit to visiting Cupid's during the meeting.

The charge further alleges the truth was that Sheridan had a sexual relationship with one woman between January 1994 and September 2002, and with another woman between January 2000 and December 2005.

Gail Sheridan is accused of making false statements when she was a witness in the case on July 31 2006.

Part of the charge alleges that she said she could remember spending every weekend in November 2001 and November 2002 with her husband, when the truth was that she did not spend every weekend in November 2001 with him.

Yesterday's proceedings were largely taken up with administrative issues ahead of the trial.

Tony Lenehan, representing Mr Sheridan, told the court about the apparent discovery in 2007 of what was said to be a bug in Mr Sheridan's car.

He said police on both sides of the border had been involved in investigations surrounding the issue and suggested that he may have more to say on the issue to the court in due course.

A continued preliminary hearing in the case will be held at the High Court in Glasgow on October 26.