Politically-driven prosecution against Scotland’s best-known socialist
“I have fought the power of News International all my political life and I make no apologies for taking on the might of Rupert Murdoch. Several million pounds of public money has been spent investigating myself and my wife. Isn’t it about time that similar resources were devoted to investigate the activities of the News of the World,” remarked Tommy Sheridan’s lawyer, on his behalf, after being found guilty.
After a 12-week trial on charges of perjury – the longest and most expensive case of its kind in Scotland – Tommy Sheridan has been found guilty by a jury on a majority verdict. He will be sentenced in late January.
This outcome represents a blow to Tommy Sheridan, his family, friends and comrades. But it will also be widely regarded as a politically-driven prosecution achieved through an unprecedented vendetta by the state against Scotland’s best-known socialist. As such, it will provoke anger among many genuine socialists, trade unionists and working class people here in Scotland and internationally.
Tommy Sheridan may have been found “guilty” in a capitalist court of law. But for socialists he is innocent of any crime against the interests of the working class. This prosecution has only been achieved through an unholy alliance of the might of News International, the capitalist legal establishment, the police and the leadership of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).
Although this verdict will be celebrated in the plush offices of News International, it will prove to be an empty victory. It will neither defeat Tommy Sheridan as an individual, nor the determination of the new generation of workers’ and young people from looking towards socialist ideas in the coming period.
This was a trial through which the rich and powerful enemies of the working class and socialism saw the opportunity to inflict a defeat on an individual who has been a thorn in the flesh of the capitalist establishment for over 20 years.
Tommy Sheridan is Scotland’s most high profile socialist. He was a leader of the mass campaign that defeated Thatcher’s poll tax in the late 1980’s and early ‘90’s. As an elected socialist MSP [Member of the Scottish Parliament] for eight years, he fought for the interests of the working class and lived on a worker’s wage and donated the rest of his salary back to the socialist movement.
Thinly disguised vendetta
The verdict follows four years of a thinly disguised vendetta against Tommy Sheridan, Gail Sheridan and other members of Solidarity by the police and the legal establishment. The perjury investigation came after Tommy Sheridan had won a famous civil defamation victory over Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World (NotW) newspaper in 2006.
After calls for a perjury inquiry by the judge in the 2006 case, the leaders of the Scottish Socialist Party, who were applauded by the Sun and the News of the World, handed in so-called minutes of a party meeting to the police in August 2006. An SSP member, George McNeilage, who was very close to the party leadership, sold a “video” to the NotW for £200,000 that was designed to implicate Tommy Sheridan in perjury. McNeilage claimed he sold the video to assist the SSP leaders. We would like to know how much of that £200,000 went to the SSP?
The SSP have attempted to justify their actions by claiming they were trying to "save the party" and on a desire to "tell the truth." And yet it was the actions of the SSP leaders, who rather than welcome the defamation victory in 2006 as a defeat for the News of the World, threw themselves into the arms of the enemies of socialism to get Tommy Sheridan.
Their actions triggered a perjury inquiry for the first time ever following a civil case. More than £2 million of public money was spent by the police, which usurped tens of thousands of hours of police time.
During the police investigation, Tommy and Gail’s house was raided by a dozen officers who were searching for evidence – traumatising their two-year old daughter. Tommy Sheridan was arrested in a media-staged police action outside his place of work and charged with perjury.
Gail Sheridan was suspended from work for 5 months after police tipped off her employer, British Airways, that ’miniatures’ – which they claimed she may have stolen – had been found in her house during the police raid. She was cleared of all these allegations. To add insult to injury, when being interrogated by police, Gail was accused of acting “like an IRA terrorist” because she refused to answer police questions.
Huge sums paid to witnesses
During the trial, Tommy Sheridan accused Lothian and Borders police and the Scottish Crown office of carrying out a “persecution not a prosecution”. And all the evidence points to a planned and orchestrated campaign against the Sheridan’s’ that amounts to an abuse of power by the police.
It also emerged during the trial that the News of the World had paid out huge sums of money to various witnesses for their stories, including the huge £200,000 paid for the “video”.
Gail Sheridan was also charged with perjury. But after 44 days of a trial, during which the prosecution did not bring forward a single scrap of evidence, all charges were propped against her. It is clear that she was only charged in the first place to increase the psychological and emotional pressure on the Sheridan’s.
Of the 42 prosecution witnesses, 24 were members of the SSP, including 16 of the original Executive Committee who gave evidence against Tommy in the 2006 defamation action. Without the SSP, there was little possibility of a prosecution being achieved. Their central role in this vendetta against Tommy Sheridan, alongside that of the police and the legal establishment, will condemn them forever in the eyes of genuine socialists and class-conscious workers.
Socialist Party Scotland has supported Tommy Sheridan over the last six years in his battle against those powerful forces ranged against him. We will continue to give our full support to Tommy Sheridan, Gail his family, friends and comrades in the continuing battles that lie ahead.