Sheridan wins £200,000 in court victory over 'News of the World'

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The Independent Online

Scotland's best known socialist won the biggest fight of his political life yesterday when a jury awarded him £200,000 in damages over claims he was a hypocrite and adulterer who took part in drink and drugs-fuelled group sex orgies.

Tommy Sheridan, former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), won a defamation action against the News of the World after a salacious five-week court case that could lead to five members of the Scottish Parliament being investigated by police for perjury.

A jury of six men and five women took just two hours and 50 minutes to return its verdict on day 23 of the case which has captured headlines around the world and turned the perma-tanned Mr Sheridan into possibly Scotland's most famous politician.

In a series of articles printed between October 2004 and January 2005, the newspaper claimed Mr Sheridan, 42, a teetotaller, had drunk champagne while cheating on his wife with a former prostitute, visited swingers' clubs in Manchester to have sex with strangers and indulged in three, four and even five-in-a-bed romps.

Two of the women alleged to have had an affair with the SSP boss were party workers and Mr Sheridan claimed the articles suggested he had abused his position as leader.

Mr Sheridan's decision to fight the newspaper, and its publishers News Corp, resulted in a major split in the SSP and forced him to resign in November 2004.

During the trial, at which Mr Sheridan represented himself after suddenly sacking his legal team only days into the case, five members of the SSP's Holyrood parliamentary party gave evidence that Mr Sheridan had admitted visiting the Manchester sex clubs - an accusation which he vehemently denied.

During the case, it was claimed that Katrina Trolle, a Scottish Socialist MSP, had sex with Mr Sheridan. It was also alleged that Mr Sheridan had a four-year affair with Fiona Maguire, a former prostitute.

Denying all the claims, Mr Sheridan claimed he was the victim of the " mother of all stitch-ups" in a bitter civil war within the party.

At one point, the contradictory evidence of various party members resulted in the judge, Lord Turnbull, saying he expected the police to carry out a perjury investigation when the trial ended.

"It is a very sorry state of affairs to see so many senior members of a mainstream political party giving contradictory evidence to each other about a meeting they all attended," he reminded the jury yesterday.

"Five members of the Scottish Parliament have given evidence to this court and it's a very serious offence to lie to a court that is punishable by imprisonment."

Even after the trial, members of the SSP were still maintaining yesterday that their former leader had lied.

However, for Mr Sheridan, his wife Gail and their numerous supporters who attended almost every day of the trial, yesterday's verdict was vindication, especially as the jury awarded him the full amount possible in damages.

When the verdict was read out in court there was a stunned silence. For at least five minutes, Gail Sheridan kept turning around to ask everyone around her if they had really won, before almost leaping over the front bench to kiss her husband in triumph.

Emerging from the Court of Session, hand-in-hand with is wife, the triumphant MSP promised a crowd of waiting supporters - and bemused tourists who thought it was part of an Edinburgh fringe festival street performance - that he would soon be back in the political fray.

Surrounded by a phalanx of cameramen and a variety of jugglers, fire-eaters and confused onlookers, Sheridan shouted himself hoarse as he vowed to fight "for the things that matter".

"We have, over the last five weeks, taken on one of the biggest organisations on the planet with the biggest amount of resources to pay for the most expensive legal teams to throw nothing but muck against me, my wife and my family," he said.

"What today's verdict proves is that when working- class people listen to the arguments they can differentiate the truth from the muck.

"The working-class people on the jury who have found in our favour have done a service to the people of Scotland and delivered a message to the standard of journalism the News of the World represents," said the MSP, who told the jury that a defeat for him would be a licence for newspapers to print lies about anybody.

"They are liars and we have proved they are liars," he said afterwards, claiming his only "vices" in life were sunbeds, Scrabble and football.

Socialist who became a hero for practising what he preached

Tommy Sheridan, the boy from the back streets of Glasgow who almost single-handedly rejuvenated the socialist cause in Scotland, is a hero to many working-class voters. At the time of the allegations, the perma-tanned dandy who emerged from the housing schemes of Glasgow to lead the revolt against the poll tax in Scotland, went to prison several times for his opposition to nuclear weapons and founded the Scottish Socialist Party, was known as a teetotal family man whose only vices were sun-beds and Scrabble.

Alongside his flight attendant wife, Gail, whom he married in 2000 after meeting her when they were both 14, the 42-year-old socialist had built an image of a trustful politician who practised what he preached - donating half of his £50,000 MSP's salary to his party in order to live on the average wage of a skilled working man.

Born in Glasgow on 7 March 1964, he was brought up in a family of Irish-Scots Trotskyists steeped in the political ideals of socialism and trade unionism. His mother, Alice, has served jail terms for non-payment of poll-tax fines, and attended court almost every day, often clutching her wine-coloured rosary beads.

Sheridan went to Lourdes Roman Catholic Secondary School in Glasgow, then to Stirling University, and graduated with a BA in economics and politics.

It was there that he became an enthusiastic member of Labour's militant wing, but by 1989 he had been expelled from the party because of his high profile, and embarrassing stance, against the poll tax.

In 1992 he became a councillor. Two years later he stood in European elections and came third in Glasgow as a Militant, and in the 1997 general election he took 11.1 per cent for the Scottish Socialist Alliance.

The Scottish Parliament was created and he became a member in in 1999, when the Scottish Socialist Party took 7.25 per cent of the vote in Glasgow.

However, the court case has caused a bitter civil war in his party, which was born out of a alliance of different socialist groups, and support for the party has slumped.

Wife's steely resolve, glamour and common touch won over the public

Just like Hillary Clinton, Gail Sheridan is no Tammy Wynette type who stands by her man just for the sake of it. She is a political wife who knows how to fight and uses her best assets to support the husband she has invested her life in.

Brains, beauty and charm have been used to devastating effect over the last five weeks as the 42-year-old flight attendant has stood padded shoulder-to-shoulder with her husband in the face of devastating allegations which threatened to ruin their professional and private lives. Each day Gail Sheridan, who married Tommy in 2000, walked hand-in-hand to the Court of Session in Edinburgh with her husband. Her ready smile was used to good effect on the media and public as she stopped for a chat with friends, family members, supporters and strangers who gathered at the court each morning to watch the most sensational libel trial in Scotland for many years. Each day a queue of spectators began forming outside the court by 7am and by the end of the trial many of the regulars became familiar faces to the Sheridans. So much so that on the penultimate day of the case, Gail and Tommy greeted an elderly couple, who had travelled up from the Borders every day just to watch the case.

"She's lovely," said the woman, clearly won over Gail's affectionate common touch.

Gail Sheridan, née Healy, is a product of the Glasgow working class. She lives in the same area of the city she has always lived in. The home she shares with Tommy in Cardonald is just a short distance from relatives. But friends say that behind the glamorous façade there is a steely resolve that has been of enormous benefit to her husband's fight.