TO THE strains of John Lennon’s Imagine, jailed former Scottish Socialist leader Tommy Sheridan was last night welcomed to a social evening at a Glasgow city centre pub by about 50 supporters.
While out on a week’s home leave, and accompanied by his wife Gail, he was making his first appearance at a political event since he was imprisoned.
The couple were attending a fundraiser at the Iron Horse pub in West Nile Street, organised by the Defend Tommy Sheridan campaign, to raise money for a legal case the former MSP is set to pursue to recover the £200,000 damages he was awarded at his high-profile libel trial in 2006.
The Scotsman has learned that Sheridan has instructed his legal team to demand the six-figure sum, despite his subsequent conviction for perjury, as well as a failed appeal against the guilty verdict.
His solicitor, Aamer Anwar, is pursuing the cash payment on the basis that News International has yet to lodge an appeal against the initial decision at the Court of Session in Edinburgh to award damages to Sheridan over a series of allegations about the left-winger’s private life in the now-defunct News of the World.
News International, which has been dogged by allegations of phone-hacking, pledged to appeal against the damages award in the immediate aftermath of Sheridan’s conviction in Glasgow last December.
Former MSP Sheridan is now allowed one week’s home leave a month from Castle Huntly open prison.
The Scotsman understands that Sheridan, who is just nine months into his three-year jail term did not breach the conditions of his home leave by attending the special event.
Supporters paid £5 for tickets to the event, which included stand-up comedy, music and political speeches, with the proceeds going to fund Sheridan’s legal case to get the £200,000 from News International.
Kenny Ross, chairman of the Defend Tommy Sheridan campaign, told The Scotsman that all those contributing money to bankroll Sheridan’s legal case would “get the money back” if the former SSP leader’s case is successful.
Mr Ross, a leading figure in the Scottish Fire Brigades Union, said: “Tommy is pursuing News International for the £200,000 he was awarded in 2006. His solicitor is writing to News International to say that Tommy wants the money the court said he should have.
“News of the World hasn’t lodged an appeal against the original decision, despite saying that it would do that. Tommy’s solicitor will be arguing for the damages to be paid on that basis.
“The fundraising event in Glasgow is the start of an attempt to help pay for the legal costs of pursuing News International about the damages. Anyone who contribute to it will get their money back if Tommy wins.”
Sheridan’s fresh legal attempt to get damages comes after his legal team claimed that the former Glasgow list MSP might have been a victim of the phone- hacking practices used at the News of the World.
The Scotsman previously revealed that e-mails at the heart of the Sheridan perjury case that were said to have been lost in India were found at a warehouse in London.
Sheridan’s legal team claimed the discovery of the e-mail messages about the News of the World’s investigation into Sheridan could have been key during last year’s trial.
Deputy chairman of the Labour Party Tom Watson, a senior member of a Commons committee investigating the hacking allegations, previously said Sheridan could have been a “free man” if the jury at last year’s trial had seen the e-mails.
Sheridan’s official release date from jail is thought to be July 2012, by which time he would be eligible for early release, having served half of the three-year sentence that was handed to him by Lord Bracadale in January. However, supporters of Sheridan have suggested he could be allowed home as early as Christmas this year, but forced to wear an electronic tag and to observe a night-time curfew.
Sheridan previously saw his week-long home leave from jail reduced to just three days by prison authorities.
Prison officials cut short the former SSP leader’s time at home with wife Gail and daughter Gabrielle amid claims that he was being “singled out and victimised” after the initial decision to grant him a week’s leave was made public.
However, the week-long home leave visits have since been restored.
A spokeswoman from News International last night declined to comment on Sheridan’s latest legal action.