Scrabble is my vice, not sex or cocaine, says MSP Sheridan

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The former Scottish Socialist leader Tommy Sheridan has told a jury of his weakness for Scrabble and sunbeds, not champagne, cocaine and sex clubs.

The charismatic member of the Scottish Parliament said he was too busy to indulge in the kind of "sexual Olympics" that has been suggested as he opened his case on day 14 of his £200,000 libel action against the News of the World.

Mr Sheridan, who first rose to prominence in the 1980s as a working-class hero against the poll tax in Scotland, said he invested all his energies in fulfilling his political ideals and that he had none left to indulge in adulterous relationships. "I am hardly likely to have time for any secret life of sexual Olympics," he told a jury at the Court of Session in Edinburgh yesterday.

During a five-minute opening speech, the married MSP told the court that he had never taken cocaine, had sex with a prostitute or attended a swingers' club and instead branded the News of the World "liars and hypocrites".

Immaculately dressed, the permanently tanned Mr Sheridan claimed his political commitment to his class and socialist beliefs were the cornerstone of his life. "You will hear of my addiction to Scrabble and sunbeds, not champagne, cocaine and swingers' clubs," he told the jury.

"The evidence I will lead will establish the truth about me as an individual and a Socialist. It will establish that the liars and the hypocrites are within the News of the World beast and that I did not have an affair with Fiona McGuire [a party activist and former prostitute] or anyone else during my marriage."

The 42-year-old MSP, who is representing himself, has already denounced a series of lurid sex allegations published about him as the "mother of all stitch-ups".

The News of the World claimed, in an article published in 2004, that the politician took part in group sex involving three, four, or even five-in-a-bed romps, despite being married. It claimed he had led a secret life involving drugs and visits to a swingers' club in Manchester.

Despite evidence from some of his fellow Scottish Socialist Party members last week that he had admitted visiting sex clubs, Mr Sheridan claims that he is the victim of a conspiracy by the newspaper and political rivals trying to ruin his reputation.

"I have never attended a swingers' club," he told the jury yesterday. "I have never had sex with a prostitute or attended a sex party in a hotel. The evidence will show that I don't drink alcohol or snort cocaine. The evidence will demonstrate that the real liars and hypocrites are on the side of the News of the World, not me," he said.

To back up his claims, Mr Sheridan called a fellow Scottish Socialist MSP, Rosemary Byrne, to give evidence on his behalf.

She told the court that she never heard Mr Sheridan admit going to a swingers'' club - a clear contradiction to evidence given by other members of the party on behalf of the newspaper last week - and that she had no recollection of minutes being ratified for a party meeting in 2004 at which he was supposed to have made the admission.

Allegations about Mr Sheridan's sex life were said to have been discussed at the meeting after a series of articles in the newspaper.

Mr Sheridan claimed that the newspaper's allegations were unsubstantiated and appeared to have been written under the premise that "if you throw enough muck, some of it is bound to stick".