Sheridan jailed for three years as plea for leniency is rejected

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The Independent Online

A defiant Tommy Sheridan was jailed for three years yesterday after being found guilty of repeatedly lying in a libel trial against the News of the World.

The former Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) MSP was told by the judge, Lord Bracadale, that he had "brought the walls of the temple crashing down" on himself and his family when he successfully sued the Sunday newspaper for £200,000 over the title's claims that he had visited a sex club and conducted adulterous affairs.

After pleading for leniency during mitigation yesterday, Sheridan – who represented himself during much of the three-month perjury trial – said he would appeal against his conviction, claiming he was the victim of a vendetta and conspiracy involving 14 former comrades from the party he founded.

In a statement read outside court by his solicitor, Aamer Anwar, Mr Sheridan said: "This multi-million pound prosecution will separate me from my wife and child and that will be heartbreaking. But I will continue to fight a system that protects the real criminals – the rich and powerful."

There were highly charged scenes at the High Court in Glasgow after the sentencing. Sheridan, 46, delivered his trademark clenched-fist salute as he was led away in handcuffs from his wife Gail, also 46, who had also been accused of lying in the original libel hearing but was acquitted.

Mrs Sheridan paid tribute to her husband who has previously been imprisoned for taking part in anti-nuclear and poll-tax demonstrations. "Tommy has dedicated his life to helping others," she said. "The real reason why he's been imprisoned today is because he has fought injustice and inequality with every beat of his heart," his wife added. "But it won't be long before Tommy is back stronger and continuing the fight."

Sheridan now plans to sue the News of the World over claims that his mobile phone was hacked by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire who was jailed in 2007 alongside the newspaper's royal editor Clive Goodman.

During an extraordinary two days at the trial in December, the socialist firebrand and one-time Celebrity Big Brother contestant fiercely cross-examined the then Downing Street Director of Communications and former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, about the phone-hacking scandal. The newspaper said yesterday it would continue in its efforts to overturn the original defamation verdict against it. Sheridan has joined the disgraced Conservative politicians Lord Archer and Jonathan Aitken who were both jailed for lying under oath to restore their reputations in the wake of newspaper exposés.

The allegations against Sheridan centered around visits he made to Cupid's, a swingers' club in Manchester. Glasgow High Court heard from a series of party witnesses who testified that he had confessed to attending the swingers club. A joint statement by SSP members Frances Curran and Colin Fox, who both gave evidence against Sheridan, said: "He asked his closest political allies and friends to join him in that crazy strategy and then turned on us because we refused."

A News of the World spokesman said yesterday: "Today's sentence provides closure for the many witnesses who very bravely exposed their own lives to public scrutiny when they testified to Mr Sheridan's guilt."

War of words...

Sheridan's mitigation plea

"I remain a passionate socialist and am determined to put to positive use my time in custody. On my release, I will return to fight for justice, for equality and for peace. In passing sentence, I would ask your Lordship to be proportionate and reasonable... This is not a murder trial. Nobody has been killed and neither has an innocent person been imprisoned."

The Judge's response

Lord Bracadale said he "brought the walls of the temple crashing down not only on your own head but also on the heads of your family and your political friends and foes alike"