Tommy Sheridan found guilty of perjury
Tommy Sheridan was found guilty of perjury at the High Court in Glasgow on 23 December 2010.
The jury verdict (a majority one) came at the end of a trial which had begun on 4 October. Although the trial was to a considerable extent a reprise of the evidence led in the great 2006 defamation case, there was new stuff, above all perhaps a video made secretly by Mr Sheridan's one-time best man, in which allegedly the accused admitted the truth of the allegations about his visits to the now notorious Manchester swingers club known as Cupids.
Mr Sheridan's tactical approach to his case also bore similarities to 2006, especially dismissal of his advocates a few days into the trial and his thereafter taking on the burden of his own defence. Where perhaps difference was crucial, however, was his five-hour closing speech to the jury. In 2006 his speech of just 90 minutes, contrasting with the six hours from counsel for the News of the World, was thought to have been an important, perhaps decisive, factor in that famous victory.
The Crown's approach in prosecution raised doubts in some minds: the gradual paring down of the allegations of perjury from eighteen to six (five of which were eventually upheld by the jury); and, fairly late on, the complete dropping of charges against Gail Sheridan as "no longer in the public interest". But the Glasgow jury, or a majority of them, was convinced beyond reasonable doubt, as an Edinburgh jury was not on the civil balance of probabilities, that Mr Sheridan had lied in his response to the allegations published by the News of the World in 2003: for example, in denying a visit to Cupids; admissions of that visit made to the Scottish Socialist Party executive committee and, separately, to two SSP members; and an extra-marital sexual relationship.
It can be taken that the jury majority also did not believe that this was all part of a war between Mr Sheridan and the Murdoch press in which the sacrifice of truth was justified or justifiable. There were some entertaining insights into the ways of the red-top press, however: notably Bob Bird (Scottish editor of the News of the World) stripping to his underpants to get to see the video confession. The care and attention lavished on the decision to buy and publicise the video by the then chief editor of the News of the World (Andrew Coulson) must also have renewed confidence back in 10 Downing Street that the Prime Minister's decision earlier this year to appoint the same Mr Coulson as his Director of Communications was indeed a masterstroke.
Over festive season discussions of the case, what Scots Law News has heard most often questioned is why Tommy Sheridan should be "singled out" for prosecution for perjury, which, it is suggested, must be going on in the courts every day. And why anyway should we care about whether or not a politician is lying about his sex-life, which has nothing to do with his politics? Your correspondent thinks however that the justifications for the pursuit of the case are simple.
First, it was Mr Sheridan who put the truth of allegations about his sex-life at issue in the claim of defamation, presumably because he thought that unchallenged these allegations would damage him politically (for insight about that possible damage see former SSP member Alan McCombes' note in the Sunday Herald for 26 December, apparently not available online).
More important, the difference between Mr Sheridan and ordinary cases of witnesses lying, mis-remembering or forgetting (especially in cases to which they are not a party) is that, as the pursuer in a civil case of defamation, Mr Sheridan was lying to lay the whole foundation of an action based upon the claim that his opponents, and all those who gave evidence for them, were the liars – and liars, moreover, who were lying in a conspiracy to bring him down politicaly.
In essence, therefore, Tommy Sheridan wasn't just lying in his own self-interest; nor was he even just accusing (a very large number of) other people of cooking up and telling lies (bad enough though that surely is). He was abusing the legal system and attacking the foundations upon which the structure of the law is built.
What compounds the offence is that at the time in question Mr Sheridan was a Member of the Scottish Parliament, helping enact the laws by which the rest of us are governed. He is not the only politician ever to have been convicted of this kind of thing, and prosecutions have not been confined to socialists opposed to the Murdoch press: compare the stories of such Tory fibbers as Lord Archer (another "defamed" in the News of the World) and Jonathan ("sword of truth") Aitken, who instead fell before the left-ish forces of The Guardian and Granada TV. One might also mention in this context that great socialist and red-top newspaper baron Robert Maxwell, probably saved from prison only by his falling off his yacht and drowning, and whose many years' use of the law to prevent publication of the truth about him gave him such posthumous distinction as may be provided by section 12(4) of the Human Rights Act 1998.
So now we await the judge's decision on Mr Sheridan's sentence, to be declared on 26 January and not likely to be less than imprisonment for a substantial period. We also await confirmation on whether Mr Sheridan will appeal, possibly on the ground of the judge's refusal to admit certain witnesses for the defence. Meanwhile the News of the World has stated that it will continue its appeal in the great defamation case (pending which Mr Sheridan's award of damages remains unpaid), and claim expenses if its appeal is successful. This story is far from over.