Tommy Sheridan guilty of perjury

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The Independent Online

Former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan was today convicted of lying during his defamation case against the News of the World.

The jury of 12 women and two men deliberated for six and a half hours before finding Sheridan guilty of perjury after a 12-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

Sheridan had been awarded £200,000 following his successful 2006 defamation action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh after the newspaper claimed he was an adulterer who visited swingers' clubs.

He was originally charged alongside his wife Gail but the charge against her was dropped last Friday.

Following the civil court action against the tabloid, Sheridan and his wife Gail, both 46, were charged with perjury.

Lothian and Borders Police launched an investigation after witnesses gave opposing accounts of what happened.

At the start of the trial in October Sheridan faced 18 allegations, which were reduced by the prosecution to six.

The court heard from a succession of high-ranking members of the SSP who said Sheridan had confessed to attending a swingers' club in Manchester on two occasions.

Sheridan always maintained his innocence and claimed there was a vendetta against him.

Judge Lord Bracadale warned the court to be silent as the verdict was delivered. When Sheridan finished his closing speech, there was a round of applause from the public benches.

Sheridan was found guilty of five allegations under one charge on the indictment.

The last remaining allegation, that he had a sexual relationship with former News of the World columnist Anvar Khan, was deleted.

In coming to their verdict, the 14 members of the jury ruled that: Sheridan did tell a meeting of the SSP executive committee on November 9 2004 that he had visited Cupids in Manchester in 1996 and 2002 with Ms Khan; he did not deny visiting a swingers' club in Manchester at the same meeting; that party members Keith Baldassara and Alan McCombes did state at the meeting that they had previously raised the issue of him attending a sex club in Manchester with him and that he admitted that it was true; that he did visit Cupids with Andrew McFarlane, Gary Clark, Ms Khan and Katrine Trolle on September 27 2002; that he did have a sexual relationship with Katrine Trolle between January 1 and December 31 2005.

Lord Bracadale told Sheridan that when he returns for sentencing on January 26, he could expect to be given a prison sentence.

Following the majority verdict, Advocate Depute Alex Prentice moved for sentencing, giving a short biography of Sheridan's political career and mentioning previous convictions for breach of the peace.

Sheridan told the jury himself how he had spent time in jail after his protest against the Poll Tax and nuclear weapons.

Lord Bracadale requested background reports and said any submissions by Sheridan could be made at the sentencing hearing next month.

The judge told Sheridan: "You have been convicted of the serious offence of perjury and must return to court expecting to begin a prison sentence."

He excused the jury from service for eight years, telling them it had been a "long and arduous" trial.

Speaking outside court, Gail Sheridan said: "I would like to thank everybody from across Scotland for their wonderful support throughout the last six years that they've given to Tommy and I.

"Our family and our real friends, our real friends, have stood by us. I have and will always stand by Tommy."

Sheridan was released on bail until January 26 but did not speak as he left the court.

His solicitor Aamer Anwar said: "As Tommy Sheridan's solicitor, I have a statement to make on his behalf:

"For three years my wife and I have faced charges of perjury.

"Today, I was convicted and Gail was acquitted of any crime. I have fought the power of News International all my political life and I make no apologies for taking on the might of Rupert Murdoch.

"Several million pounds of public money was spent investigating me and my wife. Is it not time that similar resources were devoted to investigating the activities of the News of the World?

"I want to thank all of those who have shown us kindness and solidarity. There will be no further statement until sentencing on January 26."

Detective Chief Superintendent Malcolm Graham, of Lothian and Borders Police, said: "This was a long and complex inquiry, carried out by Lothian and Borders Police after a High Court judge stated he was of the opinion that witnesses in a civil case had lied.

"The comments of Lord Turnbull, the presiding judge at the civil case in 2006 where Tommy Sheridan sued the News of the World publication for defamation, ultimately led to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) instructing Lothian and Borders Police to conduct an inquiry.

"The investigation was into a number of witnesses who had given evidence in that civil case. One of these witnesses was Tommy Sheridan, who at that time was an elected member of the Scottish Parliament. His wife, Gail Sheridan, was also one of the witnesses investigated."

Mr Graham went on: "The force has a duty to make proportionate and reasonable inquiries into allegations of criminal misconduct which are brought to its attention.

"At every stage of the investigation, Lothian and Borders Police acted on the direction of COPFS.

"All of the evidence from the civil action brought by Mr Sheridan was considered and inquiries made it clear that perjured evidence had been given during the civil hearing.

"I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the police officers and police staff who helped to bring this inquiry to a successful conclusion."

Sheridan's mother, Alice, left the court with supporters and said her son and his wife would remain strong.

Mrs Sheridan said: "Tommy copes with everything, she'll cope very well too. We're all a family, we'll stick together.

"I'll cope - that's my son, he's done nothing but good for people all his life. I'll cope with that."

Supporters, flanked by police, members of the public and press, jostled with each other along the icy road between the court and car park.

Chants erupted of "innocent", "Tommy", and "show trial". Police were forced to keep people apart as a ring of supporters tightened around Sheridan.

Traffic stopped as the crowd crossed to the car park where Sheridan got behind the wheel of a car and drove off with his wife.

Sheridan is the co-convener of Solidarity - the party he helped set up after splitting from the SSP in the wake of his original defamation case.

A spokesman for the left-wing party backed Sheridan, claiming: "Tommy Sheridan's only crime has been to speak truth to power for as long as he has been involved in socialist politics.

"For over four long years, Tommy, his wife, their family and other members of Solidarity have found themselves under investigation by the police and the crown office following his libel victory over The News of the World in 2006.

"During this time and despite the pressure we have found ourselves under, Solidarity as a party has remained united and committed to raising socialist arguments and campaigning on the issues that matter to ordinary people."

The spokesman said that as an MSP between 1999 and 2007 Sheridan had been a "fantastic advocate on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged, the vulnerable and the working-class of Scotland"

He added: "He is a working-class fighter who has waged war on poverty and injustice wherever he has found it.

"We in Solidarity are proud to call ourselves comrades and friends of Tommy Sheridan."

A statement read by Scottish News of the World editor Bob Bird said: "We are pleased that justice has been done and that Mr Sheridan's perjury has been proved.

"As is now clear, Mr Sheridan lied to a court to secure victory when he sued the News of the World for defamation in 2006.

"We have an appeal lodged against that defamation verdict and we now look forward to that appeal succeeding in Scotland's Court of Session.

"Meanwhile, we thank the police for the thoroughness of their investigation and the jury for the care they took in listening to testimonies from some 40 prosecution witnesses.

"These witnesses came from all walks of life, social classes and political views. Most were not News of the World readers. Many bravely exposed their lives to public scrutiny and we praise their steadfastness.

"The News of the World has a proud history of exposing the hypocrisy and lies of the powerful.

"Today's verdict is a vindication of good investigative journalism. We hope and expect our successful appeal to bring an end to this matter."