No more public money for billionaire’s campaign
Tommy Sheridan’s sensational defamation victory over the News of the World (NotW) in July 2006 sent shock waves through Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire. Murdoch himself was reported to have been enraged by the outcome of the case in which a jury decided that Tommy Sheridan had been a victim of untrue and defamatory stories about his personal life printed in the NotW in 2004 and 2005.
The jury awarded Tommy Sheridan £200,000 – a record amount for a civil defamation case in Scotland. In a discussion with News International executives following the verdict, Murdoch apparently declared that no matter what it cost he wanted that “commie bastard” brought down.
On trial during the ‘July Days’ of 2006 were the specific stories by the NotW, that has a long and despicable track record of attempting to destroy the lives and reputations of socialists, trade unionists and working-class people generally.
Murdoch’s papers in Britain including The Sun and the NotW have acted as big business’s attack dogs whenever working people have had the temerity to stand up and defend their rights. The Murdoch press described the miners during the 1984/85 strike as being "scum." Striking firefighters were abused as being "Saddam’s stooges."
Notoriously The Sun reported the Liverpool Hillsborough stadium disaster under the headline, "The Truth", and claimed that survivors were stealing money from the dead and urinating on the emergency services; allegations that were later confirmed as a pack of lies and which resulted in a mass boycott of The Sun in Merseyside. What was also held up for public scrutiny and examination during the defamation case was the reactionary cynical propaganda machine of the Murdoch empire and right-wing tabloid journalism in general.
Iain McWhirter writing in the Sunday Herald summed up the significance of the result: "It was a rebuke to an industry that preys on human misery and disclosure; that uses chequebook journalism, spin, sensation, distortion. This has been a long time coming."
An appeal by the NotW against the outcome was, of course, to be expected. They claimed the jury’s verdict was “perverse” and are seeking a re-trial. However, in effect what they want is a re-run with the same evidence being presented hoping they can get a different result. In footballing terms it is the equivalent of France seeking to have their game against Scotland replayed because they lost 1-0 in Paris.
Rather than wait for a re-trial the wounded beast of the NotW continued a vicious campaign of attacks and personal denigration against Tommy Sheridan following the end of the court case. Its vendetta was aided and abetted by the leadership of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), many of whom had given evidence in court for the NotW.
The Murdoch press in Scotland seemed prepared to print every utterance of prominent SSP members who were given free reign in The Sun and the NotW to denounce Sheridan as a liar, demand a police investigation and perjury charges and call for the resignation of Tommy Sheridan as an MSP. The SSP’s nadir was the selling of a dodgy videotape by an SSP member for a reported £20,000 to the NotW which purported to have Tommy Sheridan admitting to activities he later denied in court.
It is almost unbelievable that a party purporting to be socialist can end up consciously assisting an organisation that sought to destroy the print unions during the Wapping strike of 1987. Moreover, an organisation whose newspapers promote horrendous levels of sexism and racism – which socialists stand resolutely opposed to.
The Scottish Crown Office took a decision in October 2006 to order Lothian and Borders police to carry out a criminal investigation into allegations of perjury made during Tommy Sheridan’s court case. Since then Lothian and Borders police have been involved in one of the most expensive and intensive perjury investigations in the history of the Scottish legal system. And this over the outcome of a civil defamation case – not even a criminal trial. Thousands of hours have now been spent by police officers interviewing people up and down the length and breadth of Scotland. An unbelievable £500,000 has been spent on this investigation so far and that cost is almost certainly an underestimate.
To give a comparison, the recent police investigation into the very serious cash for peerages allegations cost £750,000 and involved interviews with the former prime minister, Tony Blair, downwards.
It is certain that the police investigation into possible perjury in the Tommy Sheridan defamation case will now exceed this. There is a growing anger at this phenomenal waste of resources, as well as increasing concern that Lothian and Borders Police and the legal establishment are in danger of becoming, in effect, a private arm of the Murdoch vendetta against Tommy Sheridan.
This anger has been fuelled by the shocking figures released recently that showed that in Lothian and Borders police area only 1.4% of rape allegations led to a successful prosecution. This is while dozens of police officers are engaged in a pointless and expensive investigation into Tommy Sheridan’s case against the NotW.
Questions need to be answered. Why was there a decision to launch a police investigation into this case in the first place and how was that decision arrived at? It is extremely unusual for perjury investigations to be ordered in Scotland following a criminal trial, never mind a civil case.
Why an inquiry?
Alistair Bonnington, the BBC’s solicitor, commented following the trial: “Traditionally, we have very few perjury persecutions in Scotland – despite the fact that an application of elementary logic tells you that perjury must be committed every day in almost every court in Scotland in criminal trials. So, setting all special factors aside, it is highly unlikely that there will be a perjury prosecution following on the civil jury trial in the Court of Session.”
In a very telling point in the light of the decision by the Crown to launch a perjury investigation, Bonnington says: “The prospect of a lengthy, complicated and inevitably useless investigation into the possibility of perjury having been committed in the Sheridan case should fill the Scottish taxpayer with horror. Why should precious resources be wasted on such a stupid exercise?”
Good question. Why indeed? Bonnington, interviewed on Newsnight Scotland following the decision to launch a police inquiry shed some light on this: “The Faculty of Advocates was severely embarrassed by the fact that its two leading QCs in Scotland were involved in this case. Tommy Sheridan sacked one and beat the other. There is something very odd about this.”
It is almost without precedent for such an inquiry to be launched after a civil defamation case. There are almost never perjury cases into criminal trials even where a sheriff or a judge openly says he or she does not believe a witness or the accused.
So why has this unprecedented action been taken?
The massive resources, at least £500,000 of public money and the way the police have conducted the inquiry – clearly having only one target in mind – all point to a strenuous effort to try and implicate Tommy Sheridan in a perjury investigation.
This is becoming a major scandal and there is a need to bring this to the attention of socialists and trade unionists in Scotland, across Britain and internationally.
- An end to vast amounts of public money being used to bankroll a private vendetta by News International against Tommy Sheridan.
- A public inquiry into how and why an unprecedented decision to launch a police inquiry was taken.
- An inquiry into the possibility of collusion between the police, the Scottish legal establishment and News International.