Semi-naked editor feared Tommy Sheridan was trying to film him, trial told

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A NEWSPAPER editor has told how his "blood ran cold" after he had stripped to his underwear in a quest for evidence against Tommy Sheridan.

• Gail and Tommy Sheridan arrive at the court, where they deny perjury Pictures: PA

Bob Bird, editor of News of the World Scotland, said he had feared Sheridan might leap out and film him in his near-naked state, but was relieved to find he was being offered "proof" that the former MSP had lied his way to a 200,000 defamation victory.

Mr Bird alleged that Sheridan had duped a jury and that his success had been a fraud. He denied a vendetta against Sheridan and practising the "black arts" of illegal surveillance techniques against him.

Sheridan, 46, won the damages award in 2006 after the News of the World published allegations about his private life. Now, he and his wife, Gail, 46, are accused of giving perjured evidence during the litgation. Both deny the charge.

Mr Bird, 54, told the High Court in Glasgow yesterday that the News of the World had lodged an immediate appeal after the verdict in the defamation case.

About a week later, he received a telephone call from a man saying he had something that helped to prove that Sheridan had lied in court.

A meeting was arranged and it was all "a bit cloak-and-dagger" as he turned up at an arranged spot and was then directed by intermediaries to a house in Pollok, Glasgow.

There, the man held up signs telling him not to speak and to strip to his underwear, to ensure he was not "wired". Mr Bird complied, and his clothes were put in a bag. The man introduced himself as George McNeilage, Tommy Sheridan's best man.

"My blood ran cold, because I thought possibly Mr Sheridan was going to burst into the room with a video camera," said Mr Bird. "To my relief, he said, 'I'm going to show you a tape'. I sat on a sofa, still in my underwear, and we watched a tape."

Mr Bird said the film, allegedly of Sheridan confessing, was "very much" of interest to him for the appeal, and Mr McNeilage had asked for 250,000.Later, a sum of 200,000 was agreed.

Cross-examined by Sheridan, Mr Bird said there had been no direct dealings with Rupert Murdoch, head of News International, publishers of the News of the World, in regard to Sheridan.

"Did Rupert Murdoch or any of his family say anything to you when you lost the libel trial?" Sheridan asked.

Mr Bird: "No, they did not."

"Were you not told you had a blank chequebook to try to reverse the jury's decision?" continued Sheridan, who claims the tape is a fake.

Mr Bird: "I do not remember anybody saying that to me."

Sheridan suggested that paying a witness and publishing the tape before giving it to the police could not be justified under an editors' code of practice, as it had not been in the public interest to publish.

Mr Bird claimed it had been "hugely" in the public interest.

"I think it was our publishing the tape that prompted the police investigation," he said. "It proved you stood in court and lied.

"It proved to my mind and, I think, to many people that 18 people who had given evidence on our behalf and had been labelled as liars… it proved they had actually been telling the truth.

"Exposing you was in the public interest," he said.

Sheridan asked if that meant there had been a vendetta against him, Mr Bird said: "No. In court, you had just fraudulently won 200,000 by standing, lying. People voting for you deserved to know what you were like."

He agreed the verdict had not been what he wanted, and he told Sheridan: "You did dupe them. Publishing that tape… it was overridingly in the public interest."

Sheridan: "You just wanted a good story for your newspaper, not justice."

Mr Bird: "No, we were after justice, too."

He knew the description of tapping phones and bugging people as "the black arts". Sheridan asked if, as the editor of the News of the World in Scotland, Mr Bird practised the black arts.

"No, I do not, absolutely not," he said.

Sheridan asked: "Have ever sanctioned, or been made aware of, surveillance on me, my phone or my car?"

Mr Bird stated: "No."

The trial resumes next week.

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