News of the World: Crown Office asks police to investigate Sheridan witness evidence

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THE Crown Office has asked Strathclyde Police for a "preliminary assessment" of witness evidence at the Sheridan trial and to hand findings to prosecutors for possible further action.

The Crown Office, which undertakes prosecutions in Scotland, said: "In light of emerging developments regarding the News of the World the Crown has requested Strathclyde Police to inquire into the evidence given by certain witnesses in the trial of Tommy Sheridan. Strathclyde Police have been asked to make a preliminary assessment and to report to the Area Procurator Fiscal at Glasgow for consideration of any action."

The request does not mean that a criminal investigation has been opened, with that decision pending the results of the police's initial inquiries. The Crown Office spokesman added that such requests were made routinely to police.

Those initial inquiries are likely to centre on evidence given by Andy Coulson and former Scottish News of the World editor Bob Bird to the trial last year. During the trial, Mr Coulson told Mr Sheridan that he had not authorised payments for corrupt police officers, and also denied that there was a culture of phone hacking at the News of the World. This week, as well as accusations of widespread hacking, there have been fresh allegations that Mr Coulson personally authorised payments to police officers.

Furthermore, attention could focus on disputed claims by Mr Bird, who told a pre-trial hearing that internal News of the World e-mails that discussed Mr Sheridan's investigation could not be produced. Mr Bird declared: "I did have a look at the e-mail system, but frankly it is a mess. Our archived e-mails have been shipped to Mumbai and it's difficult to get anything that is more than six months old."

However, this week the The Scotsman revealed Labour MP Tom Watson had received a letter from the UK Information Commissioner informing him that the e-mails were not in India, and that there were "continuing concerns" about some of the evidence given. Mr Sheridan's lawyers have claimed that the e-mails could have been crucial to the trial.

Last night, police said it was too early to say if they would be interviewing Mr Bird again. A third News of the World journalist involved in the Sheridan story, Douglas Wight, also gave evidence to the trial. A police spokesman said: "We can confirm the Crown Office has asked Strathclyde Police to conduct an initial assessment into evidence given by certain witnesses in the trial of Tommy Sheridan."