Scotland: Defend Tommy Sheridan

On 16 December, former Scottish Socialist Party MSP Tommy Sheridan was charged by Lothian and Borders police after the most expensive perjury investigation ever in Scotland.

This investigation, instigated by the Scottish Crown Office, was ordered following Tommy Sheridan’s defamation victory over Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World in July 2006. The same Crown Office will now decide whether a criminal trial takes place.

Tommy was arrested and held for eight hours for questioning in Edinburgh while nine police officers descended on Tommy and Gail Sheridan’s house in Glasgow. They detained Gail, who was alone with her two year old daughter, for eight hours while the police searched the house.

The press were tipped off about this stage-managed raid, an action that earned the police condemnation from many quarters for their intimidation and heavy-handed methods. As Tommy Sheridan commented: “I am being treated as if I am a murderer.”

The unprecedented usurping of police resources to carry out this campaign exposes how far Murdoch’s media empire, sections of Scotland’s legal establishment and the police are prepared to go to try and target Tommy Sheridan.

Prominent Scottish journalist Iain McWhirter, writing in the Guardian, made the point: “The histrionic arrest and subsequent charging of the former Scottish Socialist MSP, Tommy Sheridan, as he left his radio talk show, is quite extraordinary. Perjury investigations are very rare even in criminal cases in Scotland, and it is unheard of for such an investigation to follow a defamation action.

“You can’t help wondering why Lothian and Borders Police saw fit to devote hundreds of thousands of pounds to this case, when there are so many other demands on their time – such as pursuing rape cases in a region where fewer than 2% lead to successful prosecutions. One hopes similar effort will be devoted to investigating the illegal donations received by Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander’s election campaign.“

A colossal £500,000 of public money has been spent so far on the police inquiry by a force that had last year the worst rate for successful prosecutions of alleged rape of any police force in Scotland. Thousands of hours of police time have been diverted to this case, and for what purpose? To try and destroy the reputation of one of the most prominent socialists in Scotland.

Moreover, it is unprecedented in Scottish legal history for a civil defamation case to be followed by a criminal investigation into possible perjury having being committed.

As BBC Scotland solicitor Alistair Bonnington said on Newsnight Scotland on 17 December: “lies are told every day and in every case in courts across Scotland. What happens about that? Absolutely nothing. Just because this case involved a politician and a newspaper is not a reasonable basis at all to proceed with a perjury investigation. For Scotland this sets a precedent.”

Anti-poll tax

Tommy Sheridan has been the foremost figure in the Scottish socialist movement for nearly two decades. He was a leader of the anti-poll tax movement that was central to organising the mass non-payment campaign that defeated the Tory government in the early 1990s and in the process ended the career of Margaret Thatcher.

He served a four-month jail sentence during that campaign as a result of his leadership of it, and he was elected from his prison cell to Glasgow city council in 1992.

Tommy was elected as a socialist living on the average wage of a worker to the Scottish parliament in 1999. His uncompromising stand against racism, poverty, injustice and as a fighter for ordinary working people earned the hatred of the right-wing press and the big business establishment.

It was this that made him the target of the Murdoch media empire whose stable of papers include the Sun and News of the World, papers with a long record of attacking workers, trade unionists, asylum seekers and socialists. Murdoch’s vendetta against Tommy Sheridan is part of a campaign to destroy any opposition to the billionaires and the system that the Murdochs of this world seek to defend at all costs.

This vendetta has increased in intensity and desperation following Tommy Sheridan’s defamation victory against Murdoch’s News of the World in 2006. The now possibility of a perjury trial is a continuation of this witch-hunt by the Murdoch empire. As Iain McWhirter commented: “It is hard not to conclude that the police’s diligence has been inspired by Rupert Murdoch’s News International.”

A ‘defend Tommy Sheridan campaign’ website has been set up. Hundreds of people have pledged their support including leading members of the trade union movement like Bob Crow of the RMT and Janice Godrich of the PCS union. As have George Galloway MP, Socialist Party councillors Dave Nellist, Rob Windsor and Ian Page, Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six and Gerry Conlon from the Guildford Four.

Pages set up on myspace and facebook have attracted support from many people including Paul Heaton, singer from the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, as well as Edwyn Collins. Tens of thousands of copies of a four-page newspaper have been produced by Solidarity, Scotland’s Socialist Movement, to highlight this case.

A series of Defend Tommy Sheridan rallies are planned with prominent speakers from the socialist and trade union movement as well as a concert and possible CD.

Add your name to those speaking out in defence of Tommy Sheridan; be one of many willing to stand up against the Murdoch vendetta. Demand an end to the shocking waste of public resources being used to prosecute this witch-hunt. For the right not to be silenced by the rich and powerful.

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