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Showing posts with label Tommy Sheridan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tommy Sheridan. Show all posts

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Sheridan’s are together again–a brave, loyal woman is reunited with her husband–I wish them both well.

Since I wrote this over thirteen months ago, Andy Coulson has resigned from his post as Cameron’s spin doctor, Rebecca Brooks resigned from News International, both have been arrested, the News of the World closed in ignominy, senior police officers have either resigned or been prosecuted – or both – and the Murdochs have been humiliated. But the Cameron gang have got away unscathed so far.

The Scottish Justice system and the police consumed an enormous amount of taxpayers; money and time on this misconceived prosecution in straightened economic times – and to what end?

I hope Tommy Sheridan rebuilds both his life and his career. I wish him and the brave, loyal Gail well. I know one thing – the shameful assault by Glasgow City Council and the police on the Jaconelli family and the destruction of the lives and small businesses in Dalmarnock would not have gone by virtually unremarked and unchallenged by the Glasgow media and professional classes and ALL of the politicians of the West of Scotland. The closure of The Accord Centre for disabled children would have had a charismatic champion who would have kept it in the media eye, instead of being relegated to footnote.

 

Friday, 24 December 2010

Sheridan: Yesterday the verdict – today the inquest

I would categorise the polarities of the reactions – media and individual - to the verdict in the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial as follows -

1. Justice has been served – he brought it upon himself.  Sheridan was undoubtedly guilty. Perjury is a serious offence, and has the capacity to seriously damage the criminal justice system – it must be feel the full force of the law and be punished severely. It was not a political trial – it was public money well spent.

2. It was a political trial – a show trial – designed to satisfy News International, Rupert Murdoch, those who detest socialists of whatever ilk, and it was also a valuable smokescreen to cover the much more serious questions hanging over Andy Coulson, former editor of the NotW, now a senior advisor in the ConLib Government, over the phone tapping scandal by the News of the World. Tommy Sheridan is innocent of all the charges brought against him. There was a wide-ranging conspiracy to bring him down, one that included most of his former Scottish Socialist Party colleagues, News International, the Scottish Police and the Scottish justice system.

The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between, and that is the area I find myself in, much as I would like to be absolutely clear-cut in my view.

Let’s try to nail a few things down …

Did Tommy Sheridan bring it upon himself?

Leaving aside for the moment the question of his guilt or innocence (the Law has spoken but in a free country we may express our doubts over its verdict), Tommy Sheridan faced two crucial decision points – one when the News of the World’s made allegations about his private life, and the second when the Crown Office launched a prosecution for perjury against him and his wife, Gail Sheridan.

The original choice was to either ignore or contest the NotW allegations. To ignore them would undoubtedly have cost him his leadership of the SSP, and perhaps ultimately his parliamentary seat, but he could have survived that, diminished but not destroyed. His enemies would have claimed that his failure to contest the allegations was tantamount to an admission of guilt. His wife, the staunchly loyal - and in my book, wholly admirable - Gail Sheridan, would have stood by her husband. He could have rebuilt his career, perhaps with a new, Jack-the-Lad dimension to it, and could even have enhanced a media profile.

THE ORIGINAL CHOICE

If Tommy knew the allegations were true, he was extremely unwise to pit himself against the Murdoch empire, and in choosing to do so, he was following the paths of Aitken and Archer, both of whom destroyed their political careers and were imprisoned as a result of their choice. Only cynical self-interest, the instincts of a gambler and vanity could have led him to contest allegations that he knew were true.

If Tommy was innocent of the charges, then given his personality and the core of his political convictions, he was inevitable going to engage in the fight, even though the risks were appalling.

My advice to him, regardless of his guilt or innocence of the charges would have been – don’t do it, Tommy.

Nobody expected him to win, and there is some evidence that he did not expect to win against such a powerful adversary. Although he trumpeted his win in typical barnstorming, populist style, he must have known the inevitability of what would follow. The die had been cast, and a 21st century tragedy was about to unfold.

THE SECOND CHOICE

The second choice was whether or not to defend himself against the perjury charges laid by the Crown. Here, in my view, he had no real choice, whatever his private knowledge of guilt or innocence – he had to defend himself. To suggest as some have done, that he should not have defended himself to save the public purse the expense of a trial is utter nonsense. It is the legal system and the nature of the police investigations that create these enormous costs, estimated at £1m for the police investigation and £4m for the trial.

Sheridan was facing the inevitability of prison and crippling costs that would lead to bankruptcy. In my view, he had to fight, guilty or innocent. Most importantly, it would have been a betrayal of his wife’s unflinching loyalty and commitment to give up. There was no way back.

SHOULD THE PROSECUTION HAVE BEEN INITIATED AND HAS JUSTICE BEEN SERVED?

I say no to both questions. It should have been left to News International to decide what their remedies were after losing the initial civil action for damages.

Perjury, an offence that is committed countless times in every court daily throughout the land, is almost never prosecuted, and the egregious exceptions to this have been political – notably the Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer (Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare) perjury prosecutions.

In both these case, the prosecutions were justified by the rationale that these were powerful politicians and public figures – both Tories – who could not be seen to flout the law. Jonathan Aitken was seen as a future Prime Minister: Archer was a life peer and had been Chairman of the Conservative Party.

The same arguments and justification have been applied to the Sheridan prosecution. Why therefore was it wrong to prosecute him?

My answer is that in the Aitken and Archer cases, only they had been accused of perjury – in the first Sheridan trial, the Crown believed that many witnesses must have perjured themselves, but they only chose to prosecute Tommy and Gail Sheridan? Why not the others? Why not the ones who had testified against Sheridan? Why was a police investigation launched that appeared to focus solely on the Sheridans?

Secondly, the context in which a prosecution would have to be launched implied a political witch hunt, and some would say, a political smokescreen for the much more serious allegations against Andy Coulson, the former editor of the NotW, and now an influential man in Government, right-hand man to the Prime Minister.

All of this was taking place against a background where the very foundations of British democracy had been shaken by the expenses scandal, and were arguably being undermined by the concentration of power and influence in one media empire, News International, one that was seeking to extend its grip over news media by the BSkyB takeover.

And who would be the central players in a perjury prosecution against Tommy Sheridan?

News International’s flagship paper, the News of the World, and its former editor, now ConLib Government spinner-in-chief, Andy Coulson.

Where did the public interest lie under these circumstances, and where did the other, shadowy interests lie? In a time of economic stringency, was it wise or prudent to divert substantial police resource to investigating allegations of three-in-a-bed sex? To incur a cost of millions to the public purse for a long-drawn out show trial?

I close with a clip from last night’s BBC documentary on the case – a police interrogation of Gail Sheridan. These interrogation tapes appear to have been freely released to the BBC by the police, with what motive I cannot fathom.

But this excerpt is both damning and shaming in my view. It shows Gail Sheridan, a young mother, devoutly religious, deprived of her rosary beads, trying to act on the advice of her lawyers to exercise her absolute right not to answer questions.

Faced with her quiet determination to remain silent in the intimidating circumstances, after years of intolerable pressure on her and her family, in a bare room, the police interrogator virtually accuses her of having been trained in terror suspect techniques to avoid looking at the interrogator.

He refers to people “just like yourself” who have been held under the Terrorism Act for a period of seven days, “and that is the kind of activity I would expect from them. It is a recognised PIRA, IRA whatever – form of terrorism technique.” He waits, then asks “Who has trained you in the technique?”

And they say this was not a political trial …


Saturday, 28 January 2012

Popping the question: the space between words - the Referendum question - or questions?

I have had this little 48 second clip up since the 15th of January, but kept it private on YouTube because I still don’t know what to make of it. 



 

Let’s examine the exchange verbatim - questions put, questions answered. Or are they?

Isabel Fraser: So. Are the politicians letting us down this week? Is party politics taking too much of a role when they should be looking at the wider interests of Scotland, do you think?

Question type and the formulation of questions - meat and drink to a negotiator like me - are all the rage this week, so let’s analyse this one, or rather these ones, since Isabel Fraser poses three questions in her statement, albeit within a single theme -

Are politicians letting us down this week?

Is party politics taking to much of a role?

when

they should be looking at the wider interests of Scotland?

The first is a closed question demanding a YES/NO answer, as is the second, and the third is technically a statement of fact that assumes a YES to the first two and offer an value judgment of what politicians should be doing, or invites a NO to the first two which implies a YES to the third proposition, which is in fact also a question.

Before I analyse further, here’s how I would have answered Isabel’s deceptively simple, but in fact complex bundle of questions. Bear with me in a lengthy digression - I have never been know to use a short word when a long one will do, or choose brevity over a prolix mode, except under duress on Twitter …

PC:No, they are not letting us down, because it is impossible to separate party politics from the wider interests of Scotland. We live in a democracy, the interests of the people in that democracy are served by elected politicians who operate mainly within a frame of party, and it is the primary role of politicians in that democracy, whether in government or in opposition, to attempt to serve the interests of all of the people within the context of their party policies and beliefs.

There is no objective body that stands apart from party politics that has a greater right to speak or decide. Churches, civic leaders, business and commercial leaders are not apolitical - they act within a frame of belief and self-interest, and are also in the main, politically aligned as well.

Bodies such as Civic Scotland are political groupings - they have a viewpoint, they are comprised of people who in the main have party political views and who voted according to them in democratic elections. Their voice can therefore only be advisory - it cannot be democratic, and they have no right to compel political decision.

There is of course, the Law, which in theory stands outside of, and above party politics. A brief look at the composition of either the Westminster Parliament or Holyrood immediately demonstrates that, while the concept of the rule of law and the processes of the law should be free of influence, the lawyers themselves are not - they are in fact highly politicised.

The Advocate General of Scotland, Lord Wallace demonstrated this in the BBC debate this week. He is a former politician, now an unelected Lord: he is a political appointee representing the Crown: he therefore technically represented the Queen, but in reality the Tory/LibDem Coalition, and was in practice in the debate aligned with the Labour/Tory/LibDem coalition formed to fight against the independence of Scotland and to secure a NO vote in the referendum.”

(If you doubt that the law is politicised, consider this - Tommy Sheridan is being released from prison this week after serving a year of his sentence. Sheridan, one of the most charismatic campaigning politicians Scotland has ever seen, will not be allowed to speak in public after his release. He is, of course, a committed advocate of Scotland’s independence, and an opponent of the nuclear deterrent. Many, including me, saw his prosecution for perjury as a political prosecution, and many will see the ban on him engaging in political activity at this crucial point in his country’s history as a gagging stratagem. A legal justification for the gag has of course been presented and can be defended under the law.)

Isabel may be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief that she didn’t have me on the programme instead of the admirable Joyce McMillan. But here we have the essence of the problem - television, limited by format and by timescale, can rarely do justice to such questions and concepts, even assuming their panellists understand them in the first place. Brevity, concise exchanges and ten minute exchange slots are what television is about, except in rare instances.

Of course, in reality, I would have given a briefer answer -

No they’re not letting us down. This is about party politics and the electorate want the politicians to fight the corners they elected them to fight. Other individuals and bodies can advise, but that’s all - if they want to do more than advise, let them stand for election and run for office.”

WHAT DID JOYCE SAY? AND WHAT DID ISABEL DO NEXT?

Joyce McMillan: Well, I think - just to put it bluntly - I think no one who really cares about the future of Scotland could want to keep the devolution max or the devolution plus option off the ballot paper.

Oh, really, Joyce. So anybody who doesn’t agree with you doesn’t care about Scotland? There are many who do care deeply about Scotland who seem to want to do just that. I’m not one of them - I want a single question because I think the devolution max question is a trap for nationalists, but as a democrat, I agree with you, with great reluctance, and I have offered a ballot paper which covers all reasonable bases, an analysis to support it, to which no one has paid a blind bit of notice. Anyway

Joyce McMillan: It’s quite clear that that’s the kind of option that most Scottish voters would feel, or the largest minority of Scottish voters, would feel most comfortable with - at the moment.

Isabel Fraser: Should it be a direct independence versus devo max question?

Joyce McMillan: No - absolutely not.

Now that answer is crystal clear - it should not be a direct independence versus devo max question. Or is it?

Joyce McMillan: It should be a question which allows people who want to opt for independence to opt for independence - and then, for those who have not opted for independence to say - well, what short of independence, would you like to open negotiations for devo max.

Joyce McMillan has just confirmed a YES to Isabel Fraser’s question, in spite saying absolutely not to it initially. Since a YES answer to any referendum question is a mandate to the Scottish Government to open negotiations for that choice, what Joyce has just said is that there should be two question, and if you say NO to independence, you also - or is it then - get a devo max choice, in which case it is “a direct independence versus devo max question”.

The confusion arise because not enough consideration is being given to the sequence and structure of the ballot paper and whether there should be conditionality between questions. I have addressed this at length, and doubtless tediously for those who don’t want to come to grips with the complexity that lies beneath apparent simplicity of any ballot paper. I have offered a ballot paper recently that I think covers all the reasonable bases, except the atavistic Tam Dalyell/Michael Forsyth option of reverting to a pre-devolution Scotland.

I am rather giving up hope than anyone will read or listen until the merde hits the fan, which it is already beginning to . If a 48 second exchange requires this kind of analysis, God Save Scotland - or Somebody Save Scotland …

MY BALLOT PAPER as posted earlier in the week

CONSULTATIVE REFERENDUM

Answer only one question - tick only one box.

If you answer more than one question, your ballot paper will be null and void. CHOOSE ONLY ONE OPTION - GIVE ONLY ONE ANSWER

I want a fully independent, sovereign Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with no increased in current devolved powers to Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with some additional powers devolved to Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with all powers devolved to Scotland except defence and foreign policy.

N.B. If you have answered more than one question, i.e. ticked more than one box, your ballot paper will be null and void.

________________________________________

COMMENT

A minority, presumably led by Lord Forsyth, may call for a fifth question - a reversion to pre-devolution status. I believe there is no evidence for other than a tiny Tory minority asking for such an option, and that it therefore should not be offered. (A caller on Call Kaye this morning asked for just that!)

Some nationalists - how many  I do not know - might want devo max as a fifth fall-back question if independence fails. I do not believe such an option should be offered, because it would require a transferable vote option.

Is it too complex? I do not believe it is. There are no gradations of independence - independence delivers devo max and negates the other options. The last three questions are all the reasonable options for those who do not want independence.

Some might argue for a YES/NO on independence, but that again would require a conditionality clause, and answering more than one question, e.g

If you say YES to independence, do not answer any other questions. If you say NO to independence, choose one, and only one of the following two options

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with some additional powers devolved to Scotland.

I want Scotland to remain in the UK with all powers devolved to Scotland except defence and foreign policy.

This is too complex and confusing, in my view, especially since the first question, the independence question would be a YES/NO, but the other two would be box tick answers.

Doubtless, some will argue over the sequencing of questions, i.e. the order they are set out on the ballot paper. Since it is a referendum with the overarching theme of independence, I believe the order I have set out is reasonable.

 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

What I said about Tommy Sheridan 24th December 2010

From last year’s blog on Tommy -

Sheridan: Yesterday the verdict – today the inquest

I would categorise the polarities of the reactions – media and individual - to the verdict in the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial as follows -

1. Justice has been served – he brought it upon himself.  Sheridan was undoubtedly guilty. Perjury is a serious offence, and has the capacity to seriously damage the criminal justice system – it must be feel the full force of the law and be punished severely. It was not a political trial – it was public money well spent.

2. It was a political trial – a show trial – designed to satisfy News International, Rupert Murdoch, those who detest socialists of whatever ilk, and it was also a valuable smokescreen to cover the much more serious questions hanging over Andy Coulson, former editor of the NotW, now a senior advisor in the ConLib Government, over the phone tapping scandal by the News of the World. Tommy Sheridan is innocent of all the charges brought against him. There was a wide-ranging conspiracy to bring him down, one that included most of his former Scottish Socialist Party colleagues, News International, the Scottish Police and the Scottish justice system.

The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between, and that is the area I find myself in, much as I would like to be absolutely clear-cut in my view.

Let’s try to nail a few things down …

Did Tommy Sheridan bring it upon himself?

Leaving aside for the moment the question of his guilt or innocence (the Law has spoken but in a free country we may express our doubts over its verdict), Tommy Sheridan faced two crucial decision points – one when the News of the World’s made allegations about his private life, and the second when the Crown Office launched a prosecution for perjury against him and his wife, Gail Sheridan.

The original choice was to either ignore or contest the NotW allegations. To ignore them would undoubtedly have cost him his leadership of the SSP, and perhaps ultimately his parliamentary seat, but he could have survived that, diminished but not destroyed. His enemies would have claimed that his failure to contest the allegations was tantamount to an admission of guilt. His wife, the staunchly loyal - and in my book, wholly admirable - Gail Sheridan, would have stood by her husband. He could have rebuilt his career, perhaps with a new, Jack-the-Lad dimension to it, and could even have enhanced a media profile.

THE ORIGINAL CHOICE

If Tommy knew the allegations were true, he was extremely unwise to pit himself against the Murdoch empire, and in choosing to do so, he was following the paths of Aitken and Archer, both of whom destroyed their political careers and were imprisoned as a result of their choice. Only cynical self-interest, the instincts of a gambler and vanity could have led him to contest allegations that he knew were true.

If Tommy was innocent of the charges, then given his personality and the core of his political convictions, he was inevitable going to engage in the fight, even though the risks were appalling.

My advice to him, regardless of his guilt or innocence of the charges would have been – don’t do it, Tommy.

Nobody expected him to win, and there is some evidence that he did not expect to win against such a powerful adversary. Although he trumpeted his win in typical barnstorming, populist style, he must have known the inevitability of what would follow. The die had been cast, and a 21st century tragedy was about to unfold.

THE SECOND CHOICE

The second choice was whether or not to defend himself against the perjury charges laid by the Crown. Here, in my view, he had no real choice, whatever his private knowledge of guilt or innocence – he had to defend himself. To suggest as some have done, that he should not have defended himself to save the public purse the expense of a trial is utter nonsense. It is the legal system and the nature of the police investigations that create these enormous costs, estimated at £1m for the police investigation and £4m for the trial.

Sheridan was facing the inevitability of prison and crippling costs that would lead to bankruptcy. In my view, he had to fight, guilty or innocent. Most importantly, it would have been a betrayal of his wife’s unflinching loyalty and commitment to give up. There was no way back.

SHOULD THE PROSECUTION HAVE BEEN INITIATED AND HAS JUSTICE BEEN SERVED?

I say no to both questions. It should have been left to News International to decide what their remedies were after losing the initial civil action for damages.

Perjury, an offence that is committed countless times in every court daily throughout the land, is almost never prosecuted, and the egregious exceptions to this have been political – notably the Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer (Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare) perjury prosecutions.

In both these case, the prosecutions were justified by the rationale that these were powerful politicians and public figures – both Tories – who could not be seen to flout the law. Jonathan Aitken was seen as a future Prime Minister: Archer was a life peer and had been Chairman of the Conservative Party.

The same arguments and justification have been applied to the Sheridan prosecution. Why therefore was it wrong to prosecute him?

My answer is that in the Aitken and Archer cases, only they had been accused of perjury – in the first Sheridan trial, the Crown believed that many witnesses must have perjured themselves, but they only chose to prosecute Tommy and Gail Sheridan? Why not the others? Why not the ones who had testified against Sheridan? Why was a police investigation launched that appeared to focus solely on the Sheridans?

Secondly, the context in which a prosecution would have to be launched implied a political witch hunt, and some would say, a political smokescreen for the much more serious allegations against Andy Coulson, the former editor of the NotW, and now an influential man in Government, right-hand man to the Prime Minister.

All of this was taking place against a background where the very foundations of British democracy had been shaken by the expenses scandal, and were arguably being undermined by the concentration of power and influence in one media empire, News International, one that was seeking to extend its grip over news media by the BSkyB taekover.

And who would be the central players in a perjury prosecution against Tommy Sheridan?

News International’s flagship paper, the News of the World, and its former editor, now ConLib Government spinner-in-chief, Andy Coulson.

Where did the public interest lie under these circumstances, and where did the other, shadowy interests lie? In a time of economic stringency, was it wise or prudent to divert substantial police resource to investigating allegations of three-in-a-bed sex? To incur a cost of millions to the public purse for a long-drawn out show trial?

I close with a clip from last night’s BBC documentary on the case – a police interrogation of Gail Sheridan. These interrogation tapes appear to have been freely released to the BBC by the police, with what motive I cannot fathom.

But this excerpt is both damning and shaming in my view. It shows Gail Sheridan, a young mother, devoutly religious, deprived of her rosary beads, trying to act on the advice of her lawyers to exercise her absolute right not to answer questions.

Faced with her quiet determination to remain silent in the intimidating circumstances, after years of intolerable pressure on her and her family, in a bare room, the police interrogator virtually accuses her of having been trained in terror suspect techniques to avoid looking at the interrogator.

He refers to people “just like yourself” who have been held under the Terrorism Act for a period of seven days, “and that is the kind of activity I would expect from them. It is a recognised PIRA, IRA whatever – form of terrorism technique.” He waits, then asks “Who has trained you in the technique?”

And they say this was not a political trial …

Friday, 24 December 2010

Other views on the Sheridan Case–links
QC lambasts Sheridan case as "prostitution of Scots law": Law "lies in shame"

Ian Hamilton QC

“Scotland has lost three very different radical leaders in one year alone. And no, the potential arrival of George Galloway won’t help.”

Tommy's Troubles - Bella Caledonia

Should Sheridan's perjury trial have been prosecuted?

BBC

The GUARDIAN

Guardian: The real tragedy of Tommy Sheridan

Friday, 24 December 2010

Other views on the Sheridan Case–links

QC lambasts Sheridan case as "prostitution of Scots law": Law "lies in shame"

Ian Hamilton QC

 

“Scotland has lost three very different radical leaders in one year alone. And no, the potential arrival of George Galloway won’t help.”

Tommy's Troubles - Bella Caledonia

 

Should Sheridan's perjury trial have been prosecuted?

BBC 

 

The GUARDIAN

Guardian: The real tragedy of Tommy Sheridan

Sheridan: Yesterday the verdict – today the inquest

I would categorise the polarities of the reactions – media and individual - to the verdict in the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial as follows -

1. Justice has been served – he brought it upon himself.  Sheridan was undoubtedly guilty. Perjury is a serious offence, and has the capacity to seriously damage the criminal justice system – it must be feel the full force of the law and be punished severely. It was not a political trial – it was public money well spent.

2. It was a political trial – a show trial – designed to satisfy News International, Rupert Murdoch, those who detest socialists of whatever ilk, and it was also a valuable smokescreen to cover the much more serious questions hanging over Andy Coulson, former editor of the NotW, now a senior advisor in the ConLib Government, over the phone tapping scandal by the News of the World. Tommy Sheridan is innocent of all the charges brought against him. There was a wide-ranging conspiracy to bring him down, one that included most of his former Scottish Socialist Party colleagues, News International, the Scottish Police and the Scottish justice system.

The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between, and that is the area I find myself in, much as I would like to be absolutely clear-cut in my view.

Let’s try to nail a few things down …

Did Tommy Sheridan bring it upon himself?

Leaving aside for the moment the question of his guilt or innocence (the Law has spoken but in a free country we may express our doubts over its verdict), Tommy Sheridan faced two crucial decision points – one when the News of the World’s made allegations about his private life, and the second when the Crown Office launched a prosecution for perjury against him and his wife, Gail Sheridan.

The original choice was to either ignore or contest the NotW allegations. To ignore them would undoubtedly have cost him his leadership of the SSP, and perhaps ultimately his parliamentary seat, but he could have survived that, diminished but not destroyed. His enemies would have claimed that his failure to contest the allegations was tantamount to an admission of guilt. His wife, the staunchly loyal - and in my book, wholly admirable - Gail Sheridan, would have stood by her husband. He could have rebuilt his career, perhaps with a new, Jack-the-Lad dimension to it, and could even have enhanced a media profile.

THE ORIGINAL CHOICE

If Tommy knew the allegations were true, he was extremely unwise to pit himself against the Murdoch empire, and in choosing to do so, he was following the paths of Aitken and Archer, both of whom destroyed their political careers and were imprisoned as a result of their choice. Only cynical self-interest, the instincts of a gambler and vanity could have led him to contest allegations that he knew were true.

If Tommy was innocent of the charges, then given his personality and the core of his political convictions, he was inevitable going to engage in the fight, even though the risks were appalling.

My advice to him, regardless of his guilt or innocence of the charges would have been – don’t do it, Tommy.

Nobody expected him to win, and there is some evidence that he did not expect to win against such a powerful adversary. Although he trumpeted his win in typical barnstorming, populist style, he must have known the inevitability of what would follow. The die had been cast, and a 21st century tragedy was about to unfold.

THE SECOND CHOICE

The second choice was whether or not to defend himself against the perjury charges laid by the Crown. Here, in my view, he had no real choice, whatever his private knowledge of guilt or innocence – he had to defend himself. To suggest as some have done, that he should not have defended himself to save the public purse the expense of a trial is utter nonsense. It is the legal system and the nature of the police investigations that create these enormous costs, estimated at £1m for the police investigation and £4m for the trial.

Sheridan was facing the inevitability of prison and crippling costs that would lead to bankruptcy. In my view, he had to fight, guilty or innocent. Most importantly, it would have been a betrayal of his wife’s unflinching loyalty and commitment to give up. There was no way back.

 

SHOULD THE PROSECUTION HAVE BEEN INITIATED AND HAS JUSTICE BEEN SERVED?

I say no to both questions. It should have been left to News International to decide what their remedies were after losing the initial civil action for damages.

Perjury, an offence that is committed countless times in every court daily throughout the land, is almost never prosecuted, and the egregious exceptions to this have been political – notably the Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer (Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare) perjury prosecutions.

In both these case, the prosecutions were justified by the rationale that these were powerful politicians and public figures – both Tories – who could not be seen to flout the law. Jonathan Aitken was seen as a future Prime Minister: Archer was a life peer and had been Chairman of the Conservative Party.

The same arguments and justification have been applied to the Sheridan prosecution. Why therefore was it wrong to prosecute him?

My answer is that in the Aitken and Archer cases, only they had been accused of perjury – in the first Sheridan trial, the Crown believed that many witnesses must have perjured themselves, but they only chose to prosecute Tommy and Gail Sheridan? Why not the others? Why not the ones who had testified against Sheridan? Why was a police investigation launched that appeared to focus solely on the Sheridans?

Secondly, the context in which a prosecution would have to be launched implied a political witch hunt, and some would say, a political smokescreen for the much more serious allegations against Andy Coulson, the former editor of the NotW, and now an influential man in Government, right-hand man to the Prime Minister.

All of this was taking place against a background where the very foundations of British democracy had been shaken by the expenses scandal, and were arguably being undermined by the concentration of power and influence in one media empire, News International, one that was seeking to extend its grip over news media by the BSkyB taekover.

And who would be the central players in a perjury prosecution against Tommy Sheridan?

News International’s flagship paper, the News of the World, and its former editor, now ConLib Government spinner-in-chief, Andy Coulson.

Where did the public interest lie under these circumstances, and where did the other, shadowy interests lie? In a time of economic stringency, was it wise or prudent to divert substantial police resource to investigating allegations of three-in-a-bed sex? To incur a cost of millions to the public purse for a long-drawn out show trial?

I close with a clip from last night’s BBC documentary on the case – a police interrogation of Gail Sheridan. These interrogation tapes appear to have been freely released to the BBC by the police, with what motive I cannot fathom.

But this excerpt is both damning and shaming in my view. It shows Gail Sheridan, a young mother, devoutly religious, deprived of her rosary beads, trying to act on the advice of her lawyers to exercise her absolute right not to answer questions.

Faced with her quiet determination to remain silent in the intimidating circumstances, after years of intolerable pressure on her and her family, in a bare room, the police interrogator virtually accuses her of having been trained in terror suspect techniques to avoid looking at the interrogator.

He refers to people “just like yourself” who have been held under the Terrorism Act for a period of seven days, “and that is the kind of activity I would expect from them. It is a recognised PIRA, IRA whatever – form of terrorism technique.” He waits, then asks “Who has trained you in the technique?”

And they say this was not a political trial …


Thursday, 23 December 2010

Tommy Sheridan–a postscript …

The jury deliberated, Tommy and his family waited, their lives on hold. And after what was clearly a stressful and difficult period, they found him guilty. What would I have done if I had been a juror?

Henry Fonda: (juror no. 8 in 12 Angry Men 1957)

“It's always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don't really know what the truth is. I don't suppose anybody will ever really know. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent, but we're just gambling on probabilities - we may be wrong. We may be trying to let a guilty man go free, I don't know. Nobody really can. But we have a reasonable doubt, and that's something that's very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it's SURE. We nine can't understand how you three are still so sure. Maybe you can tell us. “

That still says something fundamental to me about the jury system, whether in America or Scotland.

A barrister (it was in an English courtroom) once asked me what I thought was the commonest criminal offence. I hazarded a guess at common assault, but he shook his head. “It’s probably perjury – people lie their heads off in court every day.”

Perjury is a very serious offence – it strikes at the very heart of equity and justice, and it must be treated with severity when proven. Since both versions of the sordid Sheridan saga can’t be true, somebody is guilty of perjury, perhaps more than one person. So my instincts tell me that, if proven, the penalty must be exacted.

But deeper instincts tell me that the News of the World and the Murdoch organisation, News International set out to destroy a good man by making allegations about his private life. I don’t care a jot whether those allegations are true of false – I have nothing but contempt for the newspaper that made them, and for the media empire of which it is a part.

Tommy Sheridan, in my view, demonstrated a lack of judgement in some of his actions. So did Andy Coulson, the former editor of the NotW, over the telephone tapping scandal. He paid the price of resigning from one well-paid job and moving to another. He is now a trusted adviser to Cameron and the unspeakable ConLib Coalition, who now, with the effective political demise of Vince Cable, seem likely to nod through the BSkyB deal for their old pal, aided by Jeremy – a right old Tory Hunt.

Enormous power, influence and the full weight of the law have been deployed against a Glasgow politician who, if he was guilty of anything, was guilty of trying to help ordinary working Scots and the vulnerable in Scottish society through the medium of a faction-ridden, tiny political party, now irretrievably split, when he could have utilised his charisma and burning conviction to better effect in a mainstream party.

Had I been a juror in Glasgow on Wednesday and Thursday, I would have asked myself two questions – and the jury members must have addressed them -

1. Would justice and equity be served by allowing a pernicious, right-wind media organisation with huge resources, and questionable influence over the government of the UK, to destroy an ordinary Scot who had the temerity – and the nerve – to challenge them?

2. Was there a reasonable doubt? And I would remember Juror No. 8’s words in 12 Angry Men – “But we have a reasonable doubt, and that's something that's very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it's SURE.”

The Sheridan jury, by a majority, declared themselves sure. They saw and heard the full evidence at first hand – I did not. But I still think a great injustice has been done, not by the jury, but by the system – by the UK Establishment and by the News of the World, and to some extent by the Scottish public, who avidly consumed all the lurid details of the trial, but failed to look hard enough at the plight of someone who had worked tirelessly and fearlessly in their interests for many years.

I am not a socialist, and would never have described myself as one, although I was a Labour party supporter for most of my life. I certainly did not support the fringe socialism of the Scottish Socialist Party, but I recognised that something of the heart and soul of the old Labour Party survived within it. When it had a measure of success, I welcomed it, as part of the plurality of Scottish democracy. I recognised the inevitability of its destruction by the doctrinaire factionalism that is inherent is such parties, but I regret that it has torn itself apart over its most charismatic member, Tommy Sheridan. Sheridan must take the blame for some, perhaps most of that outcome, by his initial decision to fight the NotW, whatever else he may or may not have been guilty of.

But he did not deserve this, and neither did his loyal wife, Gail, nor his child, nor his loving and supportive family. I hope the Scottish people recognise that in some way they were complicit in the destruction of one of their own.

Only those whose supported this flawed, but in a certain way noble man throughout can hold their heads high.

I hope the sentence is tempered with mercy, and compassion for his family. Only thus can a tragedy be averted.