TOMMY Sheridan, the former Scottish Socialist leader, has sacked his solicitor Aamer Anwar following a bitter dispute between the two men over the lawyer’s refusal to stop writing a column for a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch.
The Scotsman has learned that Sheridan has replaced prominent human rights lawyer Mr Anwar with Gordon Dangerfield, a veteran of the anti-poll tax campaign who has acted for the former MSP in previous court battles.
Sheridan was understood to have been furious at Mr Anwar’s decision to start working for the Sun at the same time as representing him in his ongoing legal dispute with Mr Murdoch’s News International newspaper group.
The two former allies held a series of meetings to discuss Mr Anwar’s decision to write the weekly column, which the solicitor was offered following the death of his colleague and friend, Paul McBride. Mr McBride was a columnist for the Sun until his sudden death last month during a visit to Pakistan.
Mr Anwar, who had travelled with Mr McBride to Pakistan, faced the task of telling his family and making the arrangements for his body to be flown home.
Sheridan warned Mr Anwar during their talks in Glasgow that he would no longer employ him as his solicitor if he continued to work for a News International title.
When Mr Anwar refused, Sheridan sacked his political ally of almost 20 years and sent a text message to close friends informing them of the move.
Mr Anwar was Sheridan’s solitictor during the perjury trial that led to the Solidarity party leader being convicted and sentenced to three years in jail. That trial followed an earlier court battle in which Sheridan sued News International for libel over reports surrounding his personal life, including allegations that he visited a swingers’ club.
Sheridan has a history of falling out with lawyers during the course of his many legal battles.
During his libel action, Sheridan dismissed Richard Keen, QC. He sacked Donald Findlay, QC, before the start of his perjury trial and, in the middle of the trial, got rid of Mr Findlay’s successor, Maggie Scott, QC, choosing instead to represent himself in court.
Last night, a source close to Sheridan said that the former Scottish Socialist leader viewed Mr Anwar’s position as “untenable” after he signed up to write the column in the Sunday edition of the Sun, while working on Sheridan’s pending appeal against the perjury conviction. The source said: “Tommy said that Aamer is no longer his lawyer and that he had taken on Gordon Dangerfield because of the situation with Aamer’s News International column.
“Tommy viewed Aamer writing for the Sun at the same time as he was a legal representative for him in the actions against News International as untenable.”
Mr Anwar’s work for the Sun comes despite his prominent role in highlighting claims of phone hacking against News International.
Last year, the solicitor, along with Labour MP Tom Watson, presented a dossier to Strathclyde police setting out allegations against the newspaper group that led to an inquiry by the force. The solicitor, speaking on the day of Sheridan’s release from jail in January, said that he may also look to raise a civil action at the High Court in London in relation to phone hacking allegations.
Mr Anwar, speaking at a press conference outside Sheridan’s home, said: “Let me put this bluntly – we are aware that Tommy Sheridan’s phone was hacked. Mr Sheridan is technically a complainer in the dossier myself and Tom Watson MP launched back in July on the day the News of the World shut down. Statements have been taken from Mr Sheridan as a complainer.”
Sheridan’s dismissal of Mr Anwar ends a long-standing association between the two men that dates back to a strike at the Timex factory in Dundee in 1993, when both men supported sacked workers during a rancorous dispute.
Mr Anwar is known for his involvement in high-profile cases, including the killing of Glasgow schoolboy Imran Khan, and his backing for a campaign on behalf of the family of murdered Indian waiter Surjit Singh Chhokar.
Sheridan’s former press officer Hugh Kerr said yesterday that although he backed Sheridan’s decision to sack Mr Anwar as “absolutely right”, he viewed the rift as being a “sad” development.
Mr Kerr, a former Labour Euro MP, said: “I did speak to him [Sheridan] and I said that there was a clear conflict of interest with Aamer’s column and him being Tommy’s solicitor. I said that it would have been my judgment that it wasn’t possible for him to do both.
“Tommy’s decision to part company with Aamer was inevitable once he started writing for a News International owned title and it’s absolutely right.”
Mr Kerr went onto claim that Mr Anwar’s departure from the Sheridan camp could initially affect the legal battle with News International due to the solicitor’s long-standing involvement in the case.
“It’s sad that this has happened and it’s a pity, as Aamer understood the politics of Tommy’s legal cases in the way that perhaps some of the QCs involved didn’t.”
Mr Anwar criticised the Scottish Prison Service which, he claimed, had informed Sheridan before Christmas that as part of his conditions of early release, he would be banned from addressing the media directly as part of a six-month gagging order.
Sheridan was yesterday unavailable for comment. Mr Anwar did not return phone calls.