Sheridan v News International

Sheridan v News International (Thomas Sheridan v News Group Newspapers Ltd.) is a court case brought by Tommy Sheridan against the publishers of the "News of the World", which began in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 4 July 2006. As an action for defamation, the case was heard before a jury.

Background

Tommy Sheridan was a leading figure in the negotiations to establish the Scottish Socialist Alliance in 1996, which evolved into the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 1998. He was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as a Glasgow representative of the SSP which he remained until he broke with the SSP in the aftermath of the court case to form Solidarity.

He was the convenor of the SSP from its formation until November 11, 2004 when he was asked to resign from this post, by a unanimous vote of the National Executive of the SSP. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4017047.stm BBC News] ]

He later claimed to have resigned due to 'personal reasons' citing a desire to spend more time with his family. At the time of his announcement, his wife Gail was expecting their first child, and this was the reason Sheridan cited as being his primary motivation for resigning:

"I cannot continue to be the party convener and be a proper father. We are entering uncharted waters, Gail and I. We are older parents, and we are excited but petrified. Since the announcement of Gail's pregnancy, it has focused my mind completely. We have been discussing this for some weeks." [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4002299.stm BBC News] ]

After his announcement to step down for family reasons, the "News of the World" ran a series of articles, alleging that he had committed adultery. Sheridan strenuously denied the accusations and quickly announced his intention to sue. The executive of the Scottish Socialist Party requested that he pursued a political rather than legal response to the allegations and declined to publicly back his court case.

As part of their defence, the "News of the World" demanded that the Scottish Socialist Party hand over all documents related to the executive committee immediately prior to Tommy Sheridan's resignation. The Executive Committee of the party declined and publicly requested that Sheridan withdrew from court case. In refusing to hand over the documents, party policy co-ordinator Alan McCombes was found in contempt of court and jailed for 12 days, while the SSP offices and McCombes' private home were raided by messengers-at-arms. The following National Council supported a request by Sheridan that the minutes were handed over to the court at the earliest possible opportunity and voted to give him "full political support" in his libel action.

The trial

Defender's case

The jury heard allegations that Sheridan had visited "swingers" clubs in Sheffield and Manchester and had engaged in an adulterous affair with another woman. Sheridan, who claims to be teetotal was also alleged to have drunk champagne during an extramarital liaison. Sheridan denied these allegations.

Allison Kane, SSP Treasurer, alleged in Court that Sheridan had admitted to a party meeting that the allegations concerning his private life were true, but that the newspaper would be unable to prove them. She told the Court that the controversial minute which the party had sought to withhold had noted this. Alan McCombes, the SSP official who had previously been jailed for refusing to hand over minutes of a party meeting when required to do so as part of this litigation, told the Court that Sheridan had admitted to him that he had visited swingers clubs. According to the testimony of 11 SSP members who were at the meeting, including Colin Fox, Carolyn Leckie, Allan Green, Rosie Kane, Catriona Grant, Keith Baldassara, Jo Harvie and Barbara Scott, Sheridan admitted to a meeting of the SSP executive that he had visited Cupids in Manchester.

On 14 July 2006, a controversial incident occurred during the presentation of the pursuer's case. Graeme Henderson, the junior advocate for the pursuer, suggested to witness Ann Colvin that she had a conviction for credit card fraud. This was untrue, which led to the judge warning Henderson that he had broken the Faculty of Advocates code of conduct. As a result of the incident, Sheridan dismissed his legal team and represented himself thereafter.cite news | title = Sheridan judge in case complaint | work = BBC News | date = 2006-08-15 | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/4796717.stm]

Anvar Khan testified in court that, as well as having sexual relations with Sheridan while he was married she witnessed Sheridan engaging in group sex with Katrine Trolle, an SSP candidate in 2003, and Sheridan's brother-in-law. Trolle later testified that these allegations were true and that she had visited Cupids swingers' club with Sheridan and his wife's sister's husband, where they indulged in group sex. Two of Trolle's housemates also testified to having met Sheridan in the home they shared with Trolle and seeing Sheridan going upstairs to her bedroom with her.

Two other women claimed to have seen Sheridan engaging in group sex in a Glasgow hotel on another occasion. One of these witnesses claimed to have been threatened by someone allegedly trying to protect Sheridan. These witnesses had attempted to sell their stories. [ [http://election.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=811&id=1013092006 Scotsman.com] ]

In total, 18 witnesses testified that they had either had sexual relations with him while he was married, witnessed Sheridan taking part in sex sessions or having heard him admit to visiting swingers' clubs.

Pursuer's case

On 28 July, the "News of the World" editor, in evidence, confessed that the newspaper had changed parts of their story. This followed earlier evidence where the newspaper's journalist Anvar Khan admitted that parts of her story had been sensationalised to help sell her book. She altered her story admitting that the alcohol, drugs and spanking had been added.

National Union of Journalists Scottish Organiser Paul Holleran admitted advising both Anvar Khan and Tommy Sheridan, both of whom were NUJ members on opposing sides during the case, though only Khan was primarily a journalist, and admitted to passing information from his confidential discussions with Ms Khan to Mr Sheridan.

QC Mike Jones quizzed the NUJ official about the editors' Code of Practice set up to regulate the press. He asked Holleran if it would be in the public interest to expose a politician guilty of hypocrisy. Holleran said: "It would be."

Mr Jones asked whether information given to the union official by an individual was not confidential between them and asked: "Did you ask Anvar Khan's permission to breach her confidentiality?" continued Mr Jones.

"I told her that was what I was doing", said Mr Holleran.

When asked whether he asked permission, Mr Holleran said: "I did not feel I had to ask her permission".

Asked how Anvar Khan felt about that, Holleran said: "I've not spoken to her for some time." [ [http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=1094182006 The Scotsman ] ]

Holleran, claimed that Ms Khan was "continually asked" for details about her visit to sex club Cupids in November 2002

Under questioning, Holleran admitted to having passed on details of confidential discussions with Ms Khan - also an NUJ member - to Sheridan to assist Sheridan's case against the "News of the World". [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/5221032.stm BBC News] ]

Six witnesses who had been at the crucial meeting were also called to support Sheridan's claim that the minute was not accurate in that he had denied visiting the swingers' club, rather than confessing as had been recorded. Among those witnesses was fellow MSP, Rosemary Byrne.

The judge's summation

On 4 August 2006, the judge commented in the course of his summing up that, due to the nature of the conflicting witness evidence, it may be necessary to investigate after conclusion of the case whether criminal charges should be brought against any witnesses for perjury.cite news | title = Sheridan victory in court battle | work = BBC News | date = 2006-08-04 | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/5246378.stm]

The verdict

On 4 August 2006, the jury of six men and five women decided, after three hours deliberation, that Tommy Sheridan had been defamed. The "News of the World" was ordered to pay damages of £200,000.

Matters arising

Perjury investigation

In August 2006, Charlie McCarthy, an SSP spokesperson and former candidate, distributed to a number of newspapers an account of a meeting he claimed to have had with Tommy Sheridan where Sheridan allegedly made a number of comments about his personal life at variance with the evidence he gave in the court case. [ [http://www.socialistunitynetwork.co.uk/news/sspcourt15.htm Socialist Unity Network] - full text of the letter] A number of other activists also came forward to claim that Sheridan had held similar meetings with them, in particular allegedly admitting that he had affairs and attended sex clubs. [ [http://politics.guardian.co.uk/scotland/story/0,,1843620,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=19 "The Guardian"] ] In October 2006, the "News of the World" released a videotape which allegedly taped Sheridan confessing to attending the club and admitting such to the SSP National Executive

On 7 August 2006 in an article for BBC News, solicitor Alistair Bonnington commented on speculation that perjury charges might be brought against the witnesses for the "News of the World". His view was that charges were unlikely because of the difficulty in proving perjury.cite news | last = Bonnington | first = Alistair | title = Sheridan perjury trial 'unlikely' | work = BBC News | date = 2006-08-07 | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/5252560.stm] However on 2 October 2006, the Procurator Fiscal decided that there were grounds for an investigation, instructed Lothian and Borders Police to proceed with one.cite news | title = Perjury probe over Sheridan trial | work = BBC News | date = 2006-10-02 | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/5400298.stm] On 21 February, 2007, "The Herald" reported that the Crown Office had asked Lothian and Borders Police undertake a full inquiry after receiving a preliminary report, [ [http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/news/display.var.1206609.0.0.php Sheridan perjury investigators given go-ahead for full inquiry] ] which was scaled up in May 2006, with the number of officers assigned to the case doubling to 20. [ [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article1842857.ece Sheridan's wife faces perjury investigation] "The Times"]

On 19 October 2006, it was reported that the police had interviewed a member of the SSP, and were intending on 20 October 2006 to seize computing equipment that had been used to type the minutes of party meetings.cite news | last = Gordon | first = Tom | title = SSP computers to be seized in investigation of Sheridan trial | work = The Herald | date = 2006-10-19 | url = http://www.theherald.co.uk/politics/72476.html] Further details regarding the progress of the investigation were reported in "The Scotsman" on 10 March [, [http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=380292007 Perjury police to quiz Sheridan witnesses] ] the "Sunday Herald" on 18 March 2007, [ [http://www.sundayherald.com/news/heraldnews/display.var.1267701.0.police_focus_on_sheridan_sex_trial_witness.php Police focus on Sheridan sex trial witness] ] and 1 April, [ [http://www.sundayherald.com/news/heraldnews/display.var.1300499.0.jersey_visitfor_sheridan_probe_police.php Jersey Visit for Sheridan Police Probe] ] suggesting that Lothian and Borders Police were investigating the evidence of several of the key witnesses in the case and had reached a conclusion with respect to the disputed minute.

On Sunday 16 December 2007, Tommy Sheridan was charged with perjury. [ [http://ukpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5h_nozeIMfbfRmljRD8NxbKDNc51Q Sheridan faces perjury charges] ] On 15 February 2008, current Solidarity members, Graeme McIver, Jock Penman and Rosemary Byrne were all charged with perjury [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/7245995.stm BBC NEWS | Scotland | Three charged over Sheridan case ] ] with respect to the original investigation. This was followed, on Tuesday 19 February 2008, by Mr. Sheridan's wife, Gail Sheridan, and her father, Angus Healy, also being charged. [ [http://ukpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5iXqzDcM20Zxq2ugfP_767OM25PCQ Sheridan wife charged with perjury] ]

On 20 March 2008, The Scotsman reported that both Tommy Sheridan and his wife Gail are due to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on 27 March 2008 in relation to perjury charges. [ [http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland/Sheridans--to-appear-.3896799.jp] Sheridans to appear in court next week]

It is estimated that the costs of this investigation may reach £500,000, [ [http://www.sundayherald.com/news/heraldnews/display.var.1494291.0.sheridan_probe_to_cost_taxpayer_500_000.php Sheridan probe to cost taxpayer £500,000] ] although it is unclear as to the cost of similar investigations into perjury allegations against less well known individuals. Sheridan has previously stated "the streets of Lothian must be crime-free if the police can devote time to harassing a family", following the charging of two with perjury, not to mention five others who "are my friends". [ [http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2008/02/20/gail-sheridan-charged-with-perjury-86908-20325008 Oh it's going to hit the fan>stated]

"News of the World" appeal

On 11 August 2006, BBC News reported that the "News of the World" had lodged an appeal with the Court of Session in Edinburghcite news | title = Tabloid launches Sheridan appeal | work = BBC News | date = 2006-08-11 | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/4784383.stm] and on 13 February 2007 reported that a provisional date for the appeal hearing had been set in December 2007. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/6358371.stm Newspaper's Tommy appeal date set] ] On 25 September 2007, it was announced that the appeal had been suspended at the request of the "News of the World" until the inquiry into allegations of perjury is concluded. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/7013358.stm Sheridan court appeal put on hold] ]

Allegations of witness intimidation

On 15 August 2006, Lord Turnbull wrote to the Faculty of Advocates about an allegation that Anne Colvin, a witness in the case, had a criminal record. and on 4 January 2007 "The Herald" reported the victim of this allegation was refused permission by Sheridan to the results of the Law Society's investigation into the matter [ [http://www.theherald.co.uk/politics/78028.html Witness not allowed to see results of Sheridan investigation] ]

On 10 October 2006, BBC News reported that Grampian police were investigating a claim by Fiona McGuire, who had been a witness in the trial for the "News of the World", that she had received a death threat through the post. In a statement to the BBC, Mr Sheridan said: "I utterly condemn any threats to Fiona McGuire or any other individual".cite news | title = Sheridan witness 'threat' inquiry | work = BBC News | date = 2006-10-10 | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/north_east/6036271.stm]

According to "The Scotsman" of 10 March 2007 after the trial, Helen Allison, a witness in the case told police that she had been lured to a meeting where she was pressed not to give evidence. [ [http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=380292007 Perjury police to quiz Sheridan witnesses] ]

On 20 May 2007 "The Herald" reported that the police were investigating staff at the sex club being offered bribes not to cooperate with the police inquiry into the court case [ [http://www.sundayherald.com/news/heraldnews/display.var.1411859.0.police_investigate_bribery_allegation_in_sheridan_case.php Police investigate ‘bribery’ allegation in Sheridan case] ]

However as of July 2008 nothing has happened about these allegations.

Sources

External links

* [http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/pdfs/Bulletinsummer06pdf.pdf SSP members' bulletin] issued immediately after the case
* [http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/Minutes/mins091104.rtf SSP executive committee minutes] from 9 November 2004
* [http://www.ssp-ul.org/defstat.html statement on case] from SSP United Left
* [http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/637 extensive discussion of case] from 10 August 2006 "Weekly Worker"
* [http://socialistunitynetwork.co.uk/activate/ssp-archive.htm Archive with all useful materials on the case and its fall out] Socialist Unity Network


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