Gagging order to be imposed on Tommy Sheridan as part of parole deal

Tommy and Gail Sheridan at the High Court in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
Tommy and Gail Sheridan at the High Court in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
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TOMMY Sheridan, the former Scottish Socialist leader, is believed to be the first person in Scotland to be served with a ban on speaking in public as part of his parole conditions when he is released from jail on Monday.

The Scotsman has learned that the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has imposed a unprecedented six-month gagging order on Sheridan, who has already signalled that he wants to play an active role in the pro-independence campaign, as part of a series of conditions that will effectively silence the former Glasgow MSP.

Last night, Paul McBride, one of Scotland’s leading QCs, said that the move was “almost unheard of” and suggested that the order had been imposed to save prison authorities from “embarrassment” at Sheridan’s release just one year into his three-year sentence for perjury.

Mr McBride also attacked the order as “silly and pointless” and warned that the prison service decision had set a “very dangerous precedent” for a democratic society.

Sheridan is thought to have been released on a home detention curfew, which involves “serving a sentence”, but where the sentence is served “in the community rather than in custody”.

During that time, the offender is still regarded as part of Scotland’s prison population.

Although the curfews have different conditions for specific individuals, such as being forced to wear an electronic tag, Sheridan is understood to be the first offender in Scotland to be banned from making public statements after release.

A prison service source said that Sheridan will be allowed to attend a press conference outside his Glasgow home on Monday afternoon, but will then be prevented from making any further public comments for a period of six months after his release from Castle Huntly open prison.

Mr McBride said he had rarely encountered such stringent restrictions.

“There’s a human rights issues, as I’ve never heard of someone being released and told don’t speak in public. It sets a very dangerous precedent,” he said.

“It’s not appropriate to a democratic society because if someone is released they are either part of society or they are not. If they are not fit to be released, then they should finish their sentence. There are rapists and murderers who have not had this condition imposed.”

The QC further claimed that the terms of the curfew could damage Sheridan’s ability to earn a living.

Mr McBride said: “Although Tommy’s unable to campaign for public office because of his conviction, it seems odd that there are restrictions being imposed about what sort of work he can do, particularly in the current economic climate.”

Under the terms of the curfew, Sheridan will be expected to observe the same conditions that have been imposed on him during the regular weekend leave breaks he has been allowed from prison.

The SPS source said that the condition was being imposed to ensure that Sheridan still faces “similar restrictions to those of a prison inmate” during the first few months of his parole. The former politician remains at risk of being recalled to prison if he speaks at political rallies or gives media interviews.

The Scotsman previously revealed that Sheridan previously had his week-long home leave from jail reduced to just three days by prison authorities, after the initial decision to grant him a week’s leave was made public.

Yesterday, Sheridan’s solicitor Aamer Amwar said that his client was “just going to read a statement” and will not be giving interviews at Monday’s press conference.

Mr Anwar declined to say what Sheridan would say, but issued a statement saying that the family had asked that their “privacy is respected”.

Sheridan is expected to be met at prison near Dundee by his wife Gail and sister Lynn, before heading home, where he will meet a group of close friends.

Mr McBride warned that the gag on Sheridan could prove pointless if others agree to speak for him.

“It’s an utterly ineffective and inefficient thing to do, as there’s nothing to prevent others speaking on his behalf. It’s silly and unnecessary, and probably challengeable in the courts,” he said.

Former Euro MP Hugh Kerr, who used to be Sheridan’s spokesman and part of his SSP inner circle, also said that the parole conditions would restrict his ability to earn a living.

He said: “It’s a great shame that we won’t have his voice contributing to the campaign for Scottish independence for a while.

“Given that part of the early release of prisoners is about rehabilitation, there’s a question about what Tommy’s supposed to do, as he’s a politician and campaigner.

“I would have hoped that the judicial authorities would have been more lenient over this.

“However, I’m sure he will make his voice heard in the campaign at the end of the period.”

Sheridan previously appeared at a social evening at a Glasgow city centre pub during a period of weekend leave, when he declined to speak to the media.

The left-winger was convicted of five counts of perjury relating to evidence he gave in his civil court case against the News of the World. He was initially awarded £200,000 in compensation but the newspaper appealed and won.

An official Scottish Prison Service spokesman said: “Someone on a home detentions curfew is still serving a sentence, it’s just that the sentence is being served in the community rather than in custody.

“Conditions are associated with home detention curfews, but these conditions are not universal and they do pertain to individuals.”