DCSIMG

Sheridan hails victory, but the accusations of lying continue

A TRIUMPHANT Tommy Sheridan yesterday revelled in the defamation victory which saw him become £200,000 richer and left his accusers facing possible perjury charges.

Just minutes after the 11 members of the jury delivered their decision, Mr Sheridan emerged into the sunshine outside the Court of Session in Edinburgh with his wife Gail, to deliver a celebratory speech.

Mr Sheridan said the News of the World had "thrown nothing but muck" but "working class people" on the jury had been able to see the difference between muck and truth.

"The jury have...done a service to the people of Scotland and have delivered a message to the standard of journalism that the News of the World represents," he bellowed.

"Gretna have made it into Europe for the first time. What we have done in the last five weeks is the equivalent of Gretna taking on Real Madrid in the Bernabeu and beating them on penalties."

The result raises the possibility of 18 witnesses, including three MSPs - Colin Fox, Carolyn Leckie and Rosie Kane, facing a criminal investigation for perjury. Each had given evidence against Mr Sheridan.

Last night there were already signs of the Scottish Socialist Party ripping itself apart, with the party leader, Colin Fox hailing Mr Sheridan's victory, while MSPs Frances Curran, Rosie Kane and Carolyn Leckie accused Mr Sheridan of lying his way through the court case.

Mr Sheridan, the MSP and former leader of the party, had been accused in articles in the News of the World in late 2004 of being a swinger, a man who cheated on his wife with several women, and someone who took part in orgies.

All of that, the paper had claimed, showed him to be a hypocrite when he had built a reputation in politics as a devoted husband and a man of honesty and integrity.

Mr Sheridan denied all the allegations and sued the paper. He insisted that many witnesses had lied against him because of a political civil war within the SSP. Others, he reminded the jury, had been paid for stories by the News of the World.

The curtain came down on one of the most incredible cases of all time when the jury filed into Court Six in Parliament House to deliver a verdict after around two hours and 45 minutes of deliberations.

A civil jury usually numbers 12, but one woman had been discharged to go on holiday. The legal formality requires a "Yes" or "No" answer to "the issue" - whether Mr Sheridan had been defamed by false statements in the newspaper articles.

The foreman of the jury said the answer was "Yes" by a majority of seven to four. And the amount of damages to be awarded to Mr Sheridan was 200,000 - exactly what he had set as a possible upper limit in his claim.

While Mr Sheridan's mother broke down in tears, the man himself remained outwardly calm, staring straight ahead.

So often in court, a verdict is met by an outpouring of emotion with screams and wails of either delight or disgust.

By contrast, here, there was only dignified silence while the clerk of court took a few minutes to record the verdict and read it back to the jury to confirm it.

At one point, Mr Sheridan turned to his wife and other relatives behind him and appeared to mouth: "I'm OK." He had a quiet word in his wife's ear.

The judge, Lord Turnbull, told the six men and five women of the jury: "I want to acknowledge the care and attention which you have given to this lengthy and difficult case. The court is grateful to you for your efforts and for your concentration and your consideration, and I now release you with my thanks."

Once the judge had been led from the Bench, Mr and Mrs Sheridan fell into a tight hug and the tears finally began to flow. Other friends and relatives joined in, and Mrs Sheridan said: "That is a result."

The solemnity of the courtroom was in stark contrast to the scene outside, as the Sheridans were greeted by roars and cheers from well-wishers.

Heading immediately to television microphones to make a promised statement, Mr Sheridan thanked his two sisters and a friend for being "the best amateur legal team in the world."

He said they had taken on one of the biggest organisations on the planet.

Mr Sheridan then continued: "What this verdict proves is that working-class people, when they listen to the arguments, can differentiate the truth from the muck. [The News of the World] are liars and we have proved that they are liars."

Mr Sheridan said the most difficult thing during the trial had been to be separated from his 14-month-old daughter, Gabrielle, and he and his wife intended to spend some quality time with her. Then, he would be back in the public eye, fighting for the causes that really mattered - poverty and inequality.

"I could never have conducted this case without the loyalty of my wife, my mother and father, my family and thousands of working-class people in Scotland," he said.

Bob Bird, editor of the Scottish News of the World, said: "I am absolutely astonished by today's verdict. This result suggests that 18 independent witnesses came to this court and committed monstrous acts of perjury."

He added: "We simply cannot accept that is what has happened. On that basis, we will be lodging an appeal. The basis of that appeal will be that the verdict was perverse."

During the trial, Michael Jones, QC, had asked SSP witnesses called by Mr Sheridan whether, in giving their answers, they had considered the possibility that, no matter what the outcome of the case might be, there might very well be a police investigation into matters such as perjury.

His comments were followed up by remarks from the judge, during legal argument outside the jury's hearing, and therefore, unreportable until the end of the case.

Lord Turnbull had said: "It seems to me pretty much inevitable that there will have to be a criminal inquiry at the conclusion of this case into the question of whether witnesses have committed perjury.

"Witnesses who have committed perjury would be liable to be sentenced to imprisonment for a lengthy period."

Mr Jones warned the jury in his closing speech that a verdict in favour of Mr Sheridan would mean the jury was branding as liars and perjurers 18 witnesses who had been called by the News of the World.

Apart from women who claimed to have had affairs with Mr Sheridan, there was a series of people from the SSP who testified that at a meeting of the party's executive, Mr Sheridan had admitted visiting a swingers' club. He was adamant he had denied the visits, and said the witnesses were part of a political plot to undermine him.

They included Colin Fox, the current party leader, and fellow socialist MSPs Carolyn Leckie and Rosie Kane.

Had Mr Sheridan lost the case, he could have been found liable for the News of the World's legal expenses of an estimated 500,000, and faced probable bankruptcy.

Instead, he was awarded the largest sum in damages in a defamation case in Scottish legal history. The previous biggest award had been 120,000, also by a jury, to a teacher who had been accused of having an affair with a Roman Catholic priest.

Tommy Sheridan's statement

"ON behalf of my wife and I, can I first of all thank my two sisters and John Aberdein, from Orkney, for being the best amateur legal team in the world.

We have over the last five weeks taken on one of the biggest organisations on the planet, with the biggest amount of resources to pay for the most expensive legal team, to throw nothing but muck against me, my wife and my family.

Well, brothers and sisters, what today's verdict proves is that working-class people, when they listen to the arguments, can differentiate the truth from the muck.

The working-class people on the jury who have found in our favour have done a service to the people of Scotland and have delivered a message to the standard of journalism that the News of the World represents.

They are liars and we have proved that they are liars.

I could never have conducted this case without the loyalty and support of my wife, my mother, my father, my sisters, my family and thousands upon thousands of working-class people in Scotland who want me to get out of this court and start fighting for the things that matter most.

Against poverty and inequality in Scotland, and against war and against nuclear weapons. Those are the things that matter most, brothers and sisters, and I assure you we will retire for a few days to spend some quality time with our 14-month-old daughter, whom we have had to be apart from for most of the last five weeks, and that's been the largest and most difficult thing to countenance.

We'll spend some time, quality time, with our daughter Gabrielle over the next few days but then I guarantee you, the people of Scotland who believe in their hearts in justice, who believe in their hearts in fighting poverty and inequality and who believe in their hearts in the need to fight against war, I'll be back on the streets calling for the Israeli troops to stop killing innocent people in Lebanon, calling for the scrapping of nuclear weapons and to call for an independent socialist Scotland.

I want to finish, brothers and sisters, by saying one thing. Gretna have made it into Europe for the first time, but what we have done in the last five weeks is the equivalent of Gretna taking on Real Madrid in the Bernabeu and beating them on penalties, that's what we've done."

'Working class hero' who beat the odds

TOMMY Sheridan yesterday climbed back onto the plinth marked "working-class hero" - the stain of allegations that he was an adulterer, a swinger, a hypocrite and a liar wiped clean.

Courtesy of copious press reports over the past four weeks, the Socialist MSP now has the potential to emerge as a national figure of the Left, a giant-slayer who took on the might of the media and won.

When Mr Sheridan made his final speech to the jury on Wednesday, he talked of the many people - friends, politicians, members of the media - who advised him not to take on the News of the World.

It was too big, the odds too long, the fight invariably dirty, yet, as he explained: "If I don't take them on, who will?"

Those searching for the genesis of Mr Sheridan's contempt for injustice would have found her sitting behind him in Court Six each day for the past five weeks, for he imbibed social politics with his mother's milk. During his final speech, Alice Sheridan held rosary beads in one hand, a picture of the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the right. Yesterday, she said only: "My prayers have been answered."

A union activist, Mrs Sheridan was a pioneer of the "battered wives" movement and, as a child, her son watched with concern as she left the house at all hours to rescue women and remonstrate with their often drunken husbands. He once said of her: "In many respects she's got more bottle than me."

Raised in a broken home in the deprived Pollok area of Glasgow, there were two incidents that shaped his life.

At the age of 11, he experimented for the first and last time with alcohol - so sick was he that he embraced abstinence. An assault by a Rangers fan, who held a knife to his throat, provided a sharp lesson in sectarianism.

At Lourdes Secondary School, the education that began at his mother's knee was further developed by two modern studies teachers who instructed him on the peaceful resistance of Rosa Parks, the American civil rights activist.

At 16, he was first seduced by a sunbed and began a love affair that, in contrast to the Scottish weather, allowed him to exchange his "peely-wally" complexion for the oaken hue that has been with him ever since.

As a bright school pupil, Mr Sheridan studied economics at Stirling University. As a leaving present, his mother gave him a biography of John MacLean, the revolutionary socialist who stood against the First World War and advocated a Scottish Workers' Republic.

At university, where he first met Jack McConnell, the First Minister, Mr Sheridan joined the Labour Party, but quickly drifted into the Militant wing. After graduating with an Honours degree in economics, he became a typing student as part of an unsuccessful attempt by Militant to take over the Scottish Labour Students.

Purged by Neil Kinnock from the Labour Party along with other Militant members, Mr Sheridan was influential in setting up a new Socialist party.

Yet it was the introduction of the poll tax in 1989 that pushed Mr Sheridan into the public eye, when he became one of the legislation's most eloquent and violent critics. It was his opposition to warrant sales that led to a four-month prison sentence in Saughton and his subsequent canonisation as a secular saint of socialist politics.

In prison, he successfully fought a political campaign to be elected councillor for Pollok on Glasgow City Council.

A popular figure in Glasgow, Mr Sheridan rose in prominence when he was elected as a list MSP to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and set about building the Scottish Socialist Party into a small, but feisty political party which claimed six seats in 2003.

STEPHEN MCGINTY

'Gallus' Gail turned the tide

GAIL Sheridan did not just stand by her man; she may have saved him.

As the last witness in the longest civil jury trial in Scottish legal history, the air hostess's brash insistence of her husband's innocence turned the tide after a flood of allegations of sexual antics.

Looking her husband straight in the eye, she dismissed the reports of orgies and kinky sex as "utter rot" and insisted: "I have never been more proud of you than I have the last four weeks in this court."

Her later declaration that, had her husband been up to no good he would be in the Clyde and she would be on trial for his murder was as in character as it was, surely, carefully crafted.

The most "gallus" of politician's wives, Gail Sheridan, appeals to the ordinary punter with her warm "hiya" style and, for the past four weeks, she has sashayed into court with the fixed grin and chic wardrobe of a catwalk model.

The air hostess with British Airways, who first met her future husband in a primary school playground in Pollok, later caught up with him when he was behind bars in Saughton prison, where he served four months for protesting against a warrant sale. She began sending postcards from her travels and for many years they lived together in his small council flat, before she insisted they move to a three-bedroom terraced house in Glasgow and marched him up the aisle in June 2000.

It is said that behind every powerful man is a formidable woman, and in the case of Gail Sheridan, she let it be known that she disagreed with her husband's decision to donate half his MSP salary back to the party and described him in court as "boring". While he is teetotal and, now famously, prefers scrabble to parties, his wife enjoys nothing more than a large glass of red wine, loud music and dancing.

In November 2004, the Sheridans announced they were expecting their first child. This was the reason Mr Sheridan cited as being his primary motivation for resigning as leader of the Scottish Socialist Party.

Mrs Sheridan gave birth to daughter Gabrielle on 30 May last year. The delivery sparked controversy as the first-time mother opted for a Caesarean section, claiming she was not "too posh to push", rather she was "too smart to suffer".

During her evidence, the courtroom erupted with laughter when Mrs Sheridan said her husband "looks like a gorilla" as she attempted to rubbish one of the claims.

She said: "You are like a monkey, so anybody rolling an ice cube round your body would end up with a hairball in their throat."

 
 
 

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