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Tommy Sheridan trial: 'Scabs' - the cheap insult that led to his downfall

How could Tommy Sheridan score such a dramatic, historic victory in one case, and lose another so spectacularly? In large measure, the love rat was caught by the rat catcher.

• An impassive Tommy Sheridan sits, chin resting on his hand, during a police interview

Much of the evidence was the same in both trials, but a crucial new witness emerged between the civil action of 2006 and the criminal prosecution of 2010.

George McNeilage, 46, a pest control technician, was a founding member of the Scottish Socialist Party and had known Sheridan from their days at Lourdes Secondary School. He even continued to call him Tam, when the rest of the country had come to know him as Tommy, and he was one of three best men at Sheridan's marriage to Gail. The fall-out between the men who had become almost brothers, not just "comrades", was enormous.

During both cases, the animosity between Sheridan and many former political allies was all too clear. It was nothing, however, to the atmosphere generated by Mr McNeilage's appearance in the witness box. Pure, unadulterated hatred was in the air. If looks really could kill, the carpets of Court 4 would have been awash with blood.

In 2004, after a story about the sexploits of an unnamed MSP, Mr McNeilage said Sheridan confided in him in a meeting in a car that he was that MSP. However, Mr McNeilage became angry that Sheridan refused to face others in his Pollok heartland, who deserved an explanation for what had happened and why Sheridan was intent on denying everything and taking the matter to court.

He hit on an idea. If Sheridan would not go to them, he would take Sheridan to them. Borrowing a video camera from the local community centre, the man who had played bit parts in Taggart and Ken Loach's film Sweet Sixteen enticed Sheridan to his flat. It was being renovated, and Mr McNeilage hid the camera among tiles and building debris. It was switched on for his arrival, and Mr McNeilage must have feared for his plan as Sheridan joked there was no problem with the spartan seating, so long as "there's nae f****** cameras… no tape equipment".

Sheridan went on to insist the News of the World could prove nothing, but that he had made the biggest mistake of his life by confessing to a meeting of the SSP's executive committee. He spoke in less than glowing terms of several of those who had attended that meeting.

Mr McNeilage showed the film to a friend but not to those for whom he had made it. "I couldn't really show it. It blew me away … the way he was talking … this was way beyond what he had said in the car," said Mr McNeilage.

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He did nothing. He now says he has a guilty conscience about not coming forward with the tape before the defamation case, thinking it may have convinced Sheridan to drop his claim and may have saved the huge split the case caused in the SSP.

After his victory, Sheridan said in a story sold to a tabloid that he would "destroy the scabs who tried to ruin me".

Being called a "scab" is as bad an insult as can be thrown at a socialist, and it infuriated Mr McNeilage.

He contacted the News of the World, which realised the tape could be dynamite in its appeal in the defamation case. Its Scottish editor, Bob Bird, went to a meeting in Mr McNeilage's home and was confronted by a sign telling him to say nothing and to take off his clothes. He stripped to his boxer shorts to show he was not "wired", viewed the tape - and knew its value. Mr McNeilage put that value at 250,000, but eventually settled for 200,000. Poetic justice, he would later suggest, that he should receive the same amount the jury had awarded Sheridan.He will no doubt see it as justice that the tape finally served a purpose - even if not the one for which it was made.

 
 
 

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