The last time I posted about the Tommy Sheridan defamation case I made reference to his sacking of his legal team and pondered how Sheridan would do as his own representative.
Since returning to work after vacation I have heard within the legal community various rumours about the sacking of the legal team – some of which are no doubt themselves actionable and consequently unrepeatable on a publicly accessible blog. I pause to note only one point regarding this. It was reported by Scotland on Sunday that Mr Sheridan’s costs were to be dealt with on a non-win, no-fee basis. I am not clear how sacking the legal team will affect this, nor how the basis for the breakdown of lawyer-client relations impacts on this.
It appears though that there is now serious financial, and consequent increased political, risk to Mr Sheridan. If he becomes bankrupt as a result of losing the action (or winning but subject to a substantially lower award than he expected) his political career is in danger. As I understand it legislation provides that undischarged bankrupts and members of parliament (Westminster or Holyrood) against whom sequestration is awarded are disqualified from being members of parliament . Is this then how his career will end? Is he destined to become a footnote in constitutional law textbooks?
Last week began withMr Sheridan concluding the questioning of the witness his counsel had wrongly accused of having a conviction for dishonesty. She denied having concocted the story for financial gain, and stuck to her story that she had seen him engaged in group sex.
The nature of Sheridan’s defence became clear as he questioned the next witness, Katrine Trolle. Where his counsel had seemed to focus forensically on the inconsistences in stories Sheridan concentrated on conspiracy.Trolle, Allan Green (Scottish Socialist Party national secretary), Colin Fox (MSP and SSP leader), Barbara Scott (who wrote the minute which indicates Mr Sheridan admitted attending swingers clubs), Carolyn Leckie MSP, Rosie Kane MSP, and Alan McCombes (SSP office bearer) are all SSP activists who – in order to get rid of Tommy Sheridan as leader – conspired to put forward this story by faking a minute. Each (aside from Trolle) attended an Executive committee meeting where Sheridan allegedly admitted attending swingers clubs. The implications of this are also potentially damaging for the SSP – if Sheridan is correct, then three MSPs have perjured themselves for political ends and laid themselves open to criminal proceedings which could end their parliamentary careers (as disqualification rules do not just apply to bankrupts, but also to convicted criminals).
As Sheridan was representing himself it was problematic to see how his evidence would be presented. Ordinarily the party would make a statement and then be cross-examined on it. However, Sheridan agreed to an extraordinary process – to be a hostile witness for the News of the World, then to give a statement subsequent to this.During this Sheridan denied making any admission to the SSP executive meeting, and the following exchange is pivotal to his claim:
“Mr Jones [counsel for the News of the World] said: “So far the people who have lied in this case are members of the Scottish Socialist Party.”
Mr Sheridan responded by saying: “That’s correct because there’s a political battle for the heart and soul of the SSP.
“I know you don’t care about that. I care about it because it is a party I have fought hard and long to build.
“This courtroom has become an arena for that battle.””
He then made an astonishing admission that could prove crucial come the summing up of his evidence.
“He agreed with Mr Jones that he himself would tell lies for political reasons.
“I think, sometimes, when you are dealing with the power of the law and the most reactionary scab outfit in the world you will have to fight dirty, yes,” he said. “
The admission that he would lie for political purposes will be used and used again in the summing up. During his own statement after the cross-examination Sheridan broke down in tears, spoke fondly of his wife (her fixed grin and white knuckles, together with new outfits and sunglasses every day excited the attention of various female journalists in the Sundays last weekend). He said,
“I have got to say to you ladies and gentlemen I am either a complete and utter idiot or I am someone who loves his wife deeply and would never betray her trust.”
So this is what it will boil down to. Do the jury think he’s an idiot? Or are they convinced by the perma-tanned family man, whose only vices are not swinging, group sex, drugs, and champagne, but sunbeds and scrabble?
In hs defence Sheridan is relying on SSP colleagues and activists. Rosemary Byrne MSP has denied hearing the alleged confession about attending the clubs, nor did she see the purported minute (she attended the Executive meeting – if she is lying again perjury becomes possible. Her political career is again on the line). And Pat Smith and Graham McIver, SSP executive committee members have denied that Mr Sheridan made any such admission at the meeting.
As seems to occur to all left wing groups eventually there is a vitriloic party split. However, here the stakes are higher. Only one group of activists can be telling the truth. And with MSPs on each side they are playing with individual political futures. Perjury finished the political career of Jonathan Aitken (or seemed to at any rate).
For Sheridan to win the jury has to be satisfied that there is faked evidence from a journalist, a former prostitute, innocent passers-by (each in it for the money either through book promotion, or needed ready cash), and various MSPs and SSP activists (whose motivation was to bring an end to the political career of Tommy Sheridan).
I can only reiterate the comments I made in my original post on the topic
“For Sheridan the nature of the stories is such that I suspect that even if he wins the case … his credibility as a political figure is shot. Applying Alistair Campbell’s dictum, as he has been on the front of the papers for more than a week with stories that damage him, whether true or not, politically he’s finished.
“From my perspective, the SSP is in a similar position. Sheridan was their biggest asset. Others that they tried to promote (including Rosie Kane) embarrassed themselves by being hopelessly out of their depth when interviewed by Scottish newscasters or in appearances on Question Time. This failure to separate party and person means that the fortunes of the SSP are tied closely to their only true begetter. And like Owen’s SDP, the end of the leader may not formally end the party but will surely prevent the party being a relevant force in the run up to next year’s Scottish Parliament elections. The effects are being seen already. The SSP is polling only 1 % in opinion polls. Oblivion beckons.”
This case and the public airing of internal disputes has finished the SSP. In the run up to parliamentary elections next year which are likely to be closer than ever the only political question is where will their votes go?