Tommy Sheridan jail break as MP says trial was 'unsound'

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JAILED former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan is to be released on home leave from prison in less than a fortnight.

The Scotsman has learned from Sheridan's legal team that the convicted perjurer, who was handed a three-year jail term in January, will be released for a week on 20 July to spend time with his wife and daughter.

The news came as senior Labour MP Tom Watson said in the Commons yesterday that the guilty verdict in the Sheridan trial was "unsound" and that the case "may need revisiting", amid claims that the former SSP leader was caught-up in the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

Sheridan's lawyer, Aamar Anwar, has said he will ask Strathclyde Police to consider a perjury investigation into the evidence given by the former Scottish News of the World editor Bob Bird and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson.

He will give further details at a press conference in Glasgow today, where he will be joined by Mr Watson.

Sheridan's leave from jail will be the first in a series of week-long breaks, which have been approved by the prison authorities, for the former Glasgow MSP. Sheridan, who was convicted of five counts of perjury relating to evidence he gave in his civil court battle against the Scottish News of The World, was transferred from Glasgow's Barlinnie jail to Castle Huntly open prison last month.

Sheridan will spend a further three weeks in jail when he returns from his first week of leave, before being granted another seven days at home, as part of the process to "assist prisoners in returning to normality".

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Prison authorities will then allow Sheridan to spend one in four weeks away from Castle Huntly, until he is eventually released.

Sheridan could be released in November this year, although he would almost certainly be forced to wear an electronic tag until July 2012 – the point at which he will have served half of his three-year sentence.

He will have to abide by "stringent" conditions during his release, which will include a daily curfew between 11pm and 7am, a ban on alcohol and a stipulation that the teetotal former politician resides at the family's Glasgow home and does not commit any criminal acts. The Scotsman understands that Sheridan will spend his first week in and around the family home and that he is likely to stay clear of politics during any further leave from prison. However, he may later spend some time with his legal team to help prepare the appeal already lodged against his perjury conviction.

The left-winger's family and legal team denied Sheridan was being granted special privileges, with wife Gail saying she and six-year-old daughter Gabrielle had been "made to wait longer" than most relatives of inmates for home leave.

Mr Anwar also suggested that Sheridan's six weeks at Castle Huntly – roughly the period he will have been at the jail by 20 July – was "longer" than the four-week stint inmates normally spend in an open prison before being given home release.

Meanwhile, Mrs Sheridan told friends that she wanted the family to be "left alone" by the press during Sheridan's week-long release, as she criticised the News of the World for its alleged involvement in hacking the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Mrs Sheridan said: "We have been aware of the depravity and criminality of these people for many years and we are glad that the public's eyes have been opened to the way that they have behaved.

"We hope that they will leave the family alone during Tommy's week at home, in particular our daughter Gabrielle. Given that we are talking about children and given the nature of some of the allegations against the News of The World, we hope that Tommy will be left alone to spend time with his daughter during the week.

"We don't want a repeat of the situation at Christmas, when the family was under siege by press photographers."

Mrs Sheridan went on to claim that she and her daughter had been made to wait longer than was necessary for her husband to secure home leave from prison.

She said: "Myself and Gabrielle have been made to wait longer than most families would in this situation."

Mr Anwar said that, as Sheridan's solicitor, he had been in contact with the prison authorities about his clients' eligibility for home leave and transfer to an open prison, which took place more than four months after the former MSP was jailed.

He said that Sheridan had been informed of his temporary release by the governor of Castle Huntly prison.

Mr Anwar said: "We contacted the prison authorities to see if Mr Sheridan was eligible for a transfer. The decision (over the release] was made by the prison governor who informed Mr Sheridan.

"There have previously been suggestions from people who should know better that Mr Sheridan has received special treatment.

"The process Mr Sheridan is going through, which will see him released on home leave, is normal for non-violent offenders.

"On 20 July he will be free to go home and visit his family. His leave will be attached to a series of stringent conditions. Conditions for those on leave include that if they commit an offence while out that they could be returned to complete their full sentence in custody.

"This process of temporary release from an open prison is one that's used to assist prisoners in returning to normality.

"Tommy is not a violent criminal and is not a risk when it comes to re-offending.

"It took longer for Tommy to be shifted to an open prison than we'd expected and it was longer than we expected before he was granted home leave."

Mr Anwar went on to back Mrs Sheridan's demand to be "left alone" during her husband's time away from prison.

He said: "There has been enough victimisation of Mr Sheridan and his family. Mr Sheridan now just wants to get on with his life."

The Scotsman previously revealed that key e-mails at the heart of the Sheridan perjury case that were said to have been lost in India have been found at a warehouse in London. Labour MP Watson wrote to Strathclyde Police demanding an investigation into whether the jury was "misled", after Mr Bird gave evidence at the trial that e-mails sent about the newspaper's investigation into the former Glasgow MSP had been "shipped to Mumbai".

The UK Information Commissioner has ruled that the e-mails were not lost in India, as Mr Bird had claimed, and that there were "continuing concerns" about some evidence.

Sheridan's legal team had demanded sight of the e-mails sent between the Scottish News of the World and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, jailed in 2007 for hacking into the phones of prominent people and selling the information to the newspaper.

Labour MP Jim Sheridan yesterday said that there was a "valid case for taking another look" at the Sheridan case. He said: "I have leant that there is anecdotal evidence that e-mails have now come to light that may have been used in the trial. For me this is not about the individual but rather it's a matter of principal and that justice prevails.

"The question has to be asked, was the jury given full access to all information available? Especially as it was a tied verdict and it could have influenced the final decision. There seems to be a seam of inappropriate activity running through the entire News International organisation and given the time and those involved in both the phone hacking case and the Tommy Sheridan trial, there could be a valid case for taking another look at Mr Sheridan's trial."