Sheridan 'admitted going to swingers' club'

Key quote

"I take a hypocrite to mean a man who says one thing and does another, or pretends to be what he is not - for example, pretends to be a family man when he commits adultery and gets involved in group sex activities and goes to a swingers' club with others, not his wife," Alistair Clark, junior counsel for News Group

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TOMMY Sheridan was fired as leader of the Scottish Socialist Party after admitting that he attended a swingers' club, a court was told yesterday.

As the MSP's 200,000 battle against a Sunday tabloid newspaper got under way, a jury also heard that Mr Sheridan had had a series of extramarital affairs.

He has launched a defamation action against the News of the World, denying allegations that he had affairs with a number of women, visited a swingers' club and enjoyed a sex "party" in a Glasgow hotel.

But lawyers for the newspaper insist claims that Mr Sheridan participated in orgies, that he was a hypocrite and that he abused his position of power are "substantially true".

In the opening evidence at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, a senior figure in the SSP said Mr Sheridan had lied to the media when he cited family reasons for resigning as the party convener in 2004.

A jury of six men and six women jury was sworn in yesterday to decide whether the Glasgow MSP was a champagne-swilling adulterer with a liking for group sex or a clean-living family man.

They must decide whether it is true or false that Mr Sheridan, who is married, committed adultery with two women, named as Fiona McGuire and Anvar Khan, the journalist and author, and other unnamed individuals.

Mr Sheridan is suing News Group Newspapers, the publisher of the News of the World, and is trying to win up to 200,000 in damages.

Alistair Clark, junior counsel for News Group, said the News of the World prided itself on its campaigns and on exposing hypocrisy on the part of public figures.

He explained that it was enough to establish a defence to a claim of defamation that what had been written was substantially true.

Generally, Mr Sheridan was complaining that articles about him in late 2004 and early 2005 had made him out to be a hypocrite, and the key question for the jury was whether he was or not. "I take a hypocrite to mean a man who says one thing and does another, or pretends to be what he is not - for example, pretends to be a family man when he commits adultery and gets involved in group sex activities and goes to a swingers' club with others, not his wife," Mr Clark said.

The articles had said such things, and also that Mr Sheridan drank champagne, despite claiming to be teetotal.

Mr Clark said there would be five main chapters of evidence for the paper. The first related to its discovery and investigation of Mr Sheridan's activities, and the second could be titled "Cupids" after the name of a swingers' club in Manchester.

"These clubs are apparently where people go for casual sexual activities with others who like that sort of thing," Mr Clark said.

"You will hear evidence from people who will explain they were with Mr Sheridan and what they saw and what he did. He denies he ever went to this club at the times that are mentioned [in the articles], particularly when married."

The third chapter would be called "the Moat House party" and referred to events at a Glasgow hotel of that name in 2002. "The evidence we will lead is that Mr Sheridan attended a party in a private suite and was seen by two independent witnesses having sex with a woman, not his wife, in a bedroom, while another man was also present in the room ... the other man will be identified. Mr Sheridan denies he was there and that the events occurred," Mr Clark said.

He titled the fourth chapter "the other women", and said there would be evidence that, in the course of his marriage, Mr Sheridan had sex with various other women.

"He denies he committed adultery. He says to his knowledge he never even met one of the women involved," Mr Clark told the jury. "Is it false that he did these things? Is it true that he did these things? That is the nub of the matter."

The fifth chapter concerned a meeting of the SSP's executive committee in November 2004, after which Mr Sheridan ceased to be leader of the party.

Allison Kane, one of the party's founding members and the case's first witness, told the court yesterday that Mr Sheridan had admitted attending a swingers' club in Manchester when his private life was discussed at the highly emotional meeting, and that he did not resign but was "voted down".

Ms Kane, 38, said the meeting had been called following a News of the World article headed "Married MSP is spanking swinger". It had not named the individual, but she agreed there had been speculation in the committee as to who was the MSP.

"There was some concern the article may indeed be referring to Tommy. A meeting was called and he came along. He responded to what had been in the press," Ms Kane said.

Michael Jones, QC, for News Group, asked if Mr Sheridan had made a response to references to Cupids.

Ms Kane said: "Yes. He said he had gone on two occasions with friends."

Quoting from what she said were minutes of the meeting - Mr Sheridan's lawyers disputed their authenticity - she said the politician had acknowledged that his visits to the club had been reckless behaviour and, with hindsight, a mistake.

Mr Sheridan had said he was not prepared to resign unless proof could be shown to exist to back up the allegations that were being made against him. He would just continue to deny the claims.

"There was no support for Tommy's position because we felt it was untenable," Ms Kane said.

She denied having been part of a faction that had been working to oust Mr Sheridan.

Mention had been made of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and how the denial of it had turned out to be the most damaging aspect; Mr Sheridan was asked to tell the truth and not to ask the executive committee to become involved in a cover-up.

Mr Sheridan had left the meeting before a vote was taken and it was decided unanimously by the 19 members that he should resign after a few days to give him the chance to think it over and talk to his family. The executive issued a statement saying he had resigned voluntarily, but that was designed to protect him.

Ms Kane said: "Tommy and I were very close friends up to these events. There was shock in that room and sadness. No-one was happy. It was devastating ... some people were in tears."

The jury was told that, in media interviews, Mr Sheridan had cited a desire to spend more time with his wife, then expecting their child, and a wish to show that the party was not a "one-man band" as the reasons for his resignation. He denied it had anything to do with rumours about his private life.

Ms Kane said he had not volunteered to stand down but had been voted down.

Mr Jones asked: "Is his version of events true?"

She replied: "To my knowledge, no."

Richard Keen, QC, for Mr Sheridan, suggested there had been factions within the party plotting to oust the leader, but Ms Kane said if that had been true, it was unlikely all 19 people at the meeting would have voted the same way.

Mr Keen said: "There was no admission from Tommy Sheridan saying, 'Yes, I did all these things'."

Ms Kane replied: "Were you at that meeting? That is absolutely not true."

She said minutes of the meeting were to have been kept confidential but had been surrendered to the court after a party official was jailed and fined for contempt of court.

Mr Keen wondered why a number of members of the executive committee had no recollection of ever seeing the document which Ms Kane now claimed to be the genuine minutes.

Ms Kane said: "You will have to ask them. I cannot speak for them. I obviously have an idea in my head why that might be the case, but I am not here to accuse anyone of anything."

The hearing continues.

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