Tommy Sheridan

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For other people named Thomas Sheridan, see Thomas Sheridan (disambiguation).
Tommy Sheridan
TommySheridan2007.jpg
Tommy Sheridan in March 2007.
Joint convenor of Solidarity
Incumbent
Assumed office
3 September 2006
Preceded by New position
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Glasgow
In office
6 May 1999 – 3 May 2007
Glasgow City Councillor
In office
1992 – 1 May 2003
Succeeded by Keith Baldassara
Personal details
Born (1964-03-07) 7 March 1964 (age 50)
Glasgow, Scotland
Political party Solidarity
Alma mater University of Stirling

Tommy Sheridan (born 7 March 1964, Glasgow) is a socialist politician in Scotland. He has held various prominent roles within Scotland's socialist movement and is co-convenor of the left-wing political party Solidarity.

Sheridan was active as a Militant tendency entryist in the Labour Party until 1989 when he was expelled,[1] and became a member of Scottish Militant Labour (SML), which eventually became the core of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). He was a prominent campaigner against the Community Charge in Scotland, and was jailed for six months for attending a warrant sale in 1991 after Glasgow Sheriff Court had served a court order on him banning his presence.[2] In 2000 and 2002, Sheridan was jailed over the non-payment of fines levied in connection with a breach of the peace committed at demonstrations against the presence of the nuclear fleet at the Faslane Naval Base.[3]

In 2006, in the case of Sheridan v News International, he won an action for defamation against the News of the World and was awarded £200,000 damages. The following year, he was charged with perjury for having told lies to the court in his defamation case.[4] In the following weeks, six of his relations and colleagues were also charged. In October 2010, he appeared together with his wife Gail at a trial for perjury. While the charges against his wife were withdrawn, on 23 December 2010, Sheridan was convicted of perjury, and on 26 January he was sentenced to three years imprisonment.[5] In the light of the News of the World phone hacking affair, the Crown Office has been ordered to reassess the case.[6] Sheridan left prison in January 2012 under automatic early release rules.[7]

Early life[edit]

Sheridan's mother is Alice Sheridan, a political activist who has stood as a candidate for political groups involving her son.

Sheridan attended the Roman Catholic schools of St Monica's Primary and Lourdes Secondary before studying at the University of Stirling, where he received a degree in Economics. He obtained a MSc in Social Research at the University of Strathclyde in 2008.[8] He studied law at Strathclyde Law School, on the two-year fast track degree, but did not complete the course.[9] He also played football at Junior level with Larkhall Thistle, Benburb, East Kilbride Thistle, Baillieston and St. Anthony's.

Political career[edit]

Militant tendency[edit]

Sheridan became a member of the Militant tendency while a student at Stirling University around 1983 after being active in a broad-based anti-Trotskyist group including Liberals and Communists as well as Labour Party members.[1] After graduating he went to Cardonald College as a typing student as part of an (unsuccessful) effort on the part of Militant to recruit Scottish Labour Students in further-education colleges. The Labour Party, then led by Neil Kinnock, found that Militant contravened the Labour Party constitution, and Sheridan himself was expelled from the Labour Party in 1989 for "bringing the party into disrepute".[1]

From within Militant, he was the public face of a mass non-payment campaign against the Community Charge in Scotland (where it was introduced a year earlier than other parts of Great Britain). The campaign involving the refusal to pay the tax, together with resistance to warrant sales which local councils held to try to recoup the money, was ultimately successful and Sheridan became a popular political figure. Sheridan denounced those who fought the police in the large-scale riot against the poll tax in London – which took place on 31 March 1990, the day before the tax was introduced in England and Wales – and publicly threatened to "name names". The police widely advertised for people to tell them the names of alleged rioters, and partly as a result of police acting on such information, over 100 individuals were jailed. With Joan McAlpine, he published A Time to Rage which chronicled the anti-poll tax movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s. McAlpine has since written about the Sheridan she became close to during that turbulent youthful period, with reference in particular to the libel case.

As the highest profile Militant member in Scotland, Sheridan was a leading figure in the group's split in the early 1990s. Emboldened by the success of the campaign against the poll tax; many Militant members – particularly in Scotland – argued for the abandonment of entryism and for the creation of Scottish Militant Labour and Militant Labour in England and Wales as separate political parties.

The argument was resolved when Sheridan and his supporters won a vote at a special conference held in Bridlington in October 1991, defeating the faction around Militant founder Ted Grant who argued against abandoning the Labour Party. The result was a split in the Militant in what has become known as the 'Scottish Turn'; Scottish Militant Labour had gained six councillors in Glasgow by 1993, including Sheridan.[1] With a strong Scottish National Party (SNP), Scottish Militant Labour argued in favour of founding a new, left-wing political party. Discussions were held with other left-wing and Scottish republican groups and a new group was formed in 1996 known initially as the Scottish Socialist Alliance. In 1998, the new Scottish Socialist Party was formed from the SSA. Differences over political strategy and priorities within the CWI soon surfaced, especially on the issue of Scottish independence, leading to a split within the CWI and Sheridan along with the majority of Scottish supporters left the organisation.

Sheridan fought two elections while in prison, coming second in the Pollok constituency at the 1992 General Election, gaining nearly 20%, a result ahead of three candidates, but behind the elected Labour Party MP. A few weeks later he won the Pollok ward on Glasgow City Council. He contested the European Parliament election in 1994 as the SML candidate in Glasgow, and came third with 8% of votes cast.

Activism at Faslane[edit]

Sheridan was first arrested at the Faslane nuclear base, the location of Britain's Trident submarine fleet, for a breach of the peace offence committed during a demonstration in February 2000.[10] He was convicted on this count, and for resisting arrest, when the case came to trial in November, and was fined £250. Believing nuclear weapons to be illegal under international law,[11] Sheridan made it clear at the time that he had no intention of paying the fine.[12] He served five days of a 14 day jail sentence the next month for this reason, and was released on 22 December.[13]

Sheridan was arrested again at Faslane on 22 October 2001 shortly after the protest began at 7am.[14][15] He was cleared when the case came to court in June 2002, the Justice of the Peace said there was insufficient evidence.[16][17] Another acquittal in October 2001, this time regarding a February 2001 protest,[18] led to an appeal by the Crown Office, but this was rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh in October 2002.[19]

Sheridan was one of the first to be arrested for a breach of the peace at a demonstration at Faslane on 11 February 2002.[20][21] He was found guilty in February 2003 and fined £200,[22] but he refused to pay and was sent to prison for non-payment on 25 August 2003.[3] This time, he was sentenced to seven days in jail, serving 3 days,[23] plus the night in custody after his arrest.[24] Before presenting himself for arrest at Glasgow police station on 24 August 2003, Sheridan had told reporters: "Nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and should be removed from the Clyde and from Britain."[3]

Scottish Socialist Party[edit]

Sheridan was a leading figure in the negotiations to establish the Scottish Socialist Alliance in 1996, which evolved into the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 1998. He became the convenor of the party and was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as a Glasgow representative and re-elected in 2003. Together with Alan McCombes he published Imagine, an outline of the principles of socialism for a modern era.

On 11 November 2004, Sheridan stepped down as convenor of the SSP, citing his wife Gail's pregnancy as a prime reason.[25] The resignation was steeped in controversy. It later emerged that the party's executive committee voted unanimously to force Sheridan to resign after a 9 November meeting in which he allegedly confirmed stories printed about a then-unnamed MSP[26] were about him, and indicated he would take legal action against the paper.[27]

Following Sheridan's resignation, the News of the World named him as the MSP they said had had an extramarital affair and visited a swingers' club in Manchester.[28] The party declined to support him in his legal action. He later branded those who refused to support him as "scabs".[29][30]

The minutes of the meeting which detailed the deliberations leading to Sheridan's resignation were kept confidential until subpoenaed by News International. After he refused to release the minutes to the Court of Session, Alan McCombes was jailed for 12 days by Judge Lady Smith.[31] At an emergency meeting of the party's National Council, it was agreed the minutes should be handed over[32] — with only 60 delegates opposed — in order to secure McCombes' release the following day.[33]

The minutes included a discussion by the party's executive committee about a recent article that alleged a married MSP had visited a swingers' club in Manchester. According to the minute, Sheridan admitted that he had in fact visited the club on two occasions, in 1996 and 2002, with close friends. Some of those present at the meeting gave evidence that they had heard Sheridan acknowledge he had been "reckless" in his behaviour which had, with hindsight, been "a mistake" and that "his strategy was to deny the allegations". Sheridan claimed this minute was not accurate.[34][35]

Eleven members, including four of the party's MSPs, stated they heard Sheridan admit to visiting the swingers' club at that meeting. Rosemary Byrne MSP and two other members of the executive committee, Graham McIver and Pat Smith, gave evidence that Sheridan made no such statement.[36] The minutes record that Sheridan left the meeting early, but before leaving, "he repeated that he did not believe there was any evidence which would prove him to be lying. He did not accept that he should admit the visits to the club and felt that no-one should comment on private lives".

At the annual conference of the SSP in early 2005, Sheridan was elected to the SSP executive and at the March 2006 conference, he was elected as party co-chair. However Sheridan announced that he was leaving the SSP in August 2006, accusing the SSP of being part of "the mother of all stitch-ups" involving not only their leadership, but also MI5 and News International.[37] He launched a new political party called Solidarity.[38]

Sheridan was originally set to re-contest the Scottish Socialist Party leadership at the October 2006 conference,[39] and Colin Fox claimed he had only established the new party because he did not stand a chance of winning back that role as SSP leader.[38]

Solidarity (Scotland)[edit]

In September 2006 Tommy Sheridan announced the formation of a new political party in Scotland named Solidarity, with himself and fellow MSP Rosemary Byrne as joint convenors.[40] Sheridan narrowly failed to be re-elected in the 2007 Holyrood election as top of his party's list nominees for Glasgow. The party also stood a candidate in by-elections in 2008 in Glasgow East and the Glenrothes, and Sheridan himself stood in the Glasgow North East by-election, 2009.

Sheridan stood as a candidate in the 2009 European Parliament elections for No to EU – Yes to Democracy, a left-wing alter-globalisation coalition led by RMT union leader Bob Crow.[41][42]

Defamation action[edit]

Hearings in Sheridan's defamation case against the publishers of the News of the World began in the Court of Session in Edinburgh on 4 July 2006.[43] Unusually in Scottish civil proceedings, the case was heard before a jury.

The jury heard allegations that Sheridan had visited a swingers clubs in Manchester and engaged in adulterous affairs with two women.[44] Sheridan, who claims to be a teetotaller, reportedly drank champagne and consumed cocaine during an extramarital liaison.[45] Sheridan denies drinking the champagne and the claim of substance abuse. Eleven members of the SSP's executive committee testified that he admitted in an Executive committee meeting to attending a swingers club with women,[46][47] but another four members of the SSP who were present at that Executive meeting backed Sheridan's claim that he made no such admission at that meeting.[48]

On 14 July 2006, Sheridan sacked his legal team and announced that he would represent himself following controversy over the source of a question over credit card fraud addressed to one of the witnesses.[49]

On 4 August 2006, Sheridan won his case with a majority verdict of 7–4 and the jury awarded him maximum damages of £200,000.[50] The News of the World has appealed the verdict. In the Scottish Socialist Voice of 8 August, a letter signed by a further six leading members of the SSP claimed that Sheridan had told them that he had admitted at an SSP Executive meeting to attending the Manchester swingers club.

The News of the World announced its intention to appeal what they described as the "perverse" decision in the immediate aftermath of the trial, and a provisional date for the hearing was set for December 2007, however it was postponed until the procurator fiscal announced the outcome of the perjury probe.[51]

Allegations of witness intimidation[edit]

On 10 October 2006, BBC News reported that Grampian Police were investigating a claim by Fiona McGuire, who had been a witness in the trial for the News of the World, that she had received a death threat through the post. In a statement to the BBC, Sheridan said: "I utterly condemn any threats to Fiona McGuire or any other individual".[52]

On 26 August 2007, the Sunday Herald reported that John Lynn had been questioned by detectives about allegations of witness tampering. Lynn is reportedly an associate of Paul Ferris, a reformed criminal who has become friendly with Sheridan. The report said Helen Allison, who claimed in court that she saw Sheridan having sex in a Glasgow hotel, had been approached by Lynn who asked her not to give evidence. Lynn was once jailed for 17 years for shooting an Ulster barman.[53]

Hidden video[edit]

On 1 October 2006, the News of the World reignited controversy by publishing new evidence in support of its claim that Sheridan lied to the Court of Session. It was a video recording allegedly of Sheridan admitting he had visited a swingers club in Manchester on two occasions and further, that he had, as other senior SSP members claimed in court, admitted this at an Executive meeting of the SSP. It was alleged by the prosecution that the tape had been made without Sheridan's knowledge using a hidden camera by SSP member George McNeillage in McNeillage's house after he invited Sheridan there. McNeillage had been one of three best men at Sheridan's wedding.

Sheridan does not appear on the video at any time. The newspaper has not been able to produce any images from the video showing Sheridan's face and Sheridan says the video is a fake. He conceded his voice was on the tape but suggested it was "spliced" with clips of the voice of someone else.[54] The News of the World claimed four independent voice analysts had confirmed that the voice on the tape is that of Tommy Sheridan.[55] However, in an interview with the BBC a forensic speech scientist, Peter French, said: "Experts should never say conclusively they have identified a person and this kind of evidence should never solely be used to bring a criminal trial".[56]

Sheridan then suggested that MI5, someone within the SSP and Rupert Murdoch had conspired to concoct the videotape to undermine his campaign for an independent socialist Scotland.[57]

Perjury conviction[edit]

HM Prison Barlinnie

The conflicting evidence given during the trial resulted in the judge warning several witnesses about the implications of perjuring themselves. On Monday 7 August 2006, Lothian and Borders Police said they had received two complaints of perjury, one from the former Conservative MSP Brian Monteith,[58] the other alleged to be from the SSP's minutes secretary.[59]

On 22 August 2006, the Crown Office announced it had instructed the Edinburgh Procurators Fiscal office to ascertain if there were grounds for a criminal investigation. On 2 October 2006, it was concluded that there were and Lothian and Borders Police were instructed to start a criminal investigation.[60] On 21 February 2007, The Herald reported that the Crown Office had asked Lothian and Borders Police to undertake a full inquiry after receiving a preliminary report.[61]

In May 2007, it was reported that staff at Cupid's Swingers Club in Manchester had told police they had been offered bribes not to co-operate with the inquiry.[62]

On 16 December 2007, Sheridan was charged with perjury in relation to the News of the World case.[63] In a public statement outside the police station he attributed his arrest to the "powerful reach" of the Murdoch press. During February 2008, his wife Gail, former SSP MSP Rosemary Byrne, former members of the SSP Executive Committee, Patricia Smith, Graeme McIver, Jock Penman, and Sheridan's father-in-law, Angus Healey were also charged with perjury.

On 27 January 2009, Sheridan and his wife were indicted for perjury, and were summoned to attend a pre-trial hearing at Edinburgh High Court on 26 February.[64] however this was postponed until 11 May.[65]

This trial started at Glasgow High Court on 4 October 2010. Sheridan's initial defence team included Donald Findlay, who was replaced by Maggie Scott.[66][67] However, a few weeks into the case, Sheridan instructed his Solicitor Aamer Anwar, who has defended him since 2007, to withdraw Scott's instructions. He then conducted his own defence, with Anwar assisting him as amicus curiae.

On 23 December 2010 a jury found Sheridan guilty of perjury and on 26 January 2011 he was sentenced to 3 years in prison.[68] Initially he was held in Barlinnie prison in Glasgow, but after several weeks he was moved to a semi-open wing in Barlinnie, and on 21 June he was moved to Castle Huntly open prison.[69][70] Sheridan was freed on 30 January 2012, having served just over one year of his sentence.[71]

Sheridan and Aamer Anwar have since parted company, Gordon Dangerfield is now acting as his lawyer.[72]

Support for Sheridan[edit]

On 17 December 2007, Sunday Herald columnist Iain MacWhirter questioned the investigation saying "it is hard not to conclude that the police's diligence has been inspired by Rupert Murdoch's News International."[73]

A campaign by Sheridan's supporters, 'Defend Tommy Sheridan' was launched, calling for answers into the nature of this investigation and the reasons behind it. The campaign received widespread support and funding from individuals, political campaigners and civil rights activists, including politician George Galloway MP: John McManus, head of MOJO, the organisation which campaigns against miscarriages of justice: The Royle Family actor and political campaigner Ricky Tomlinson: Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six: Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four: Singers Paul Heaton (Beautiful South) and Edwyn Collins. Leading trade unionists Bob Crow (RMT), Janice Godrich (PCS), Kenny Ross (FBU) all support the campaign.

On 21 February 2008, The Daily Telegraph columnist Alan Cochrane questioned the treatment of the Sheridans by the police and claimed that his view was shared by "Senior members of Scotland's legal fraternity, including some with the closest of links to the Scottish Executive".[74]

In June 2008 a rally organise by the Defend Tommy Sheridan Campaign, heard speeches from Fire Brigades Union Secretary Kenny Ross, Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, and Gerry Conlon (Guildford Four), the later two were both wrongly convicted and imprisoned. The speakers queried the motives for the investigation, questioned the role of the police and Crown Office and verbally attacked the witnesses who had given evidence unhelpful to Sheridan in the original hearing.

On 11 February 2009, the Scottish law magazine The Firm claimed that the police had put "incredible pressure" on the Crown Office to proceed with a case against Gail and Tommy Sheridan. Lothian and Borders Police and the Crown Office deny the claims.[75]

Claims of illegal surveillance[edit]

In March 2007, Lothian and Borders Police investigated claims that Tommy Sheridan had been bugged after a suspicious device was found in his car. The device was described as "not of the kind used by British security services".[76]

A complaint submitted to Strathclyde Police in July 2011 lead to Operation Rubicon, a major investigation involving 50 officers investigating allegations of phone hacking, breach of data protection and perjury by News of the World. In May 2012, Andy Coulson, editor of the News of the World from 2003 – 2007 and who gave evidence at Sheridan's trial,[77] was detained "on suspicion of committing perjury before the High Court in Glasgow".[78] On 7 July 2014, following Coulson's conviction on phone hacking charges, it was announced that Coulson himself would face perjury charges over Sheridan's trial. [79]

Celebrity career[edit]

In 2001, Sheridan provided vocals for "Daddy dog", a single and track on the album "Popartglory" by Scottish band Jasmine Minks, released on Alan McGee's label Poptones.[80] Tommy Sheridan had a weekly Sunday morning show on Talk 107 for 18 months, but the station did not renew his contract due to cutbacks and changes to programming that saw Mike Graham and others leave Talk107.[81] He hosted a chat show during the Edinburgh fringe in 2007, which received muted reviews.[citation needed] He appeared in the Celebrity version of Big Brother UK. He was the fifth to be evicted (during the double eviction on 21 January 2009). He received mixed reactions from the crowd upon both entry and exit, and admitted during the post-eviction interview that his primary motivation for taking part was that he "needed the money".[citation needed]

Scottish independence 'yes' campaign[edit]

In June 2014, the Sunday Herald reported that four pro-independence groups — Women for Independence, Labour for Independence, Generation Yes, and the Radical Independence Campaign — had adopted a policy of refusing Sheridan a platform during the campaign for a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum, 2014. According to the report, pro-independence figures "believe Sheridan is piggy-backing on the independence campaign to gain publicity for an appeal against his conviction".[82]

Elections contested[edit]

UK Parliament elections

Date of election Constituency Party Votes  %
1992 Glasgow Pollok SML 6,287 19.26
1997 Glasgow Pollok SSA 3,639 11.09
2010 Glasgow South West Solidarity (TUSC) 931 2.9

Scottish Parliament elections

Date of election Region Party Votes  % Results
1999 Glasgow SSP 18,581 7.2 Elected
2003 Glasgow SSP 31,216 15.2 Elected
2007 Glasgow Solidarity 8,544 4.1 Not elected
Date of election Constituency Party Votes  %
1999 Glasgow Pollok SSP 5,611 21.5
2003 Glasgow Pollok SSP 6,016 27.9

European Parliament elections

Date of election Constituency Party Votes  % Notes
1994 Glasgow SML 12,113 7.6 Single member constituency
Date of election Region Party Votes  % Results Notes
2009 Scotland No2EU 9,693 0.9 Not elected Multi-member constituency

References[edit]

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External links[edit]