6 July 2011

Sheridan wasn't "convicted on the evidence" of Andy Coulson...

As I type, a debate is ongoing in the House of Commons on the behaviour of the News of the World. The details of this behaviour are sufficiently notorious that they warrant no repeating here.  During his contribution, I understand that the Labour MP Tom Watson may have suggested that Sheridan was "convicted on the evidence of Andy Coulson", and as such, the conviction was "unsound and may need revising" - or words to that effect. I am not contending that whether or not Coulson perjured himself in the Sheridan trial is of no consequence for any appeal against conviction. However, before we get too carried away, I wanted to raise a couple of points of clarification.

Firstly, while the Scottish editor of the News of the World Bob Bird was called to give evidence by Alex Prentice QC, Andy Coulson was actually a witness for the defence, called at Tommy's own instance. In legal theory, juries only convict an accused person when they are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the Crown have proved their case. Coulson formed no part of the Crown case. It seems an unfair slight to Sheridan's skills as an advocate to suggest that his examination in chief of Coulson was so calamitous as to lead to his own conviction. Indeed, according to the record of proceedings kept by James Doleman on his Sheridan Trial blog, the Advocate Depute only asked him a couple of brief and unchallenging questions pertaining to the "McNeilage tape".

Again, I am resolutely not contending that any alleged or proved perjury on Coulson's part would be irrelevant to any appeal. However, in coming to any assessment about the relevance of the latest round of hacking revelations to the Sheridan trial, it is important that we "keep the heid" and see the evidence adduced from Coulson in its proper light, with respect to the charges laid against Sheridan and the evidence lead by the Crown in respect of those charges.  As those who followed the trial will recall, the London media's interest in the proceedings were only really piqued when Coulson was called to the High Court of Justiciary in Glasgow. At that time, Coulson still worked for David Cameron in Downing Street. Given that emphasis, it is easy to see how they might come to see the Sheridan trial mostly in terms of Coulson's testimony. Any Court of Criminal Appeal, however, will be focussing its attention on the indictment on which the jury convicted Sheridan. It is worth revisting the contents of that final indictment that was put to them...

THOMAS SHERIDAN, born 7 March 1964, whose domicile of citation has been specified as ******
you are indicted at the instance of The Right Honourable ELISH ANGIOLINI, Queen's Counsel, Her Majesty's Advocate, and the charges against you are that

(2) on 21 July 2 In 2006 at the Court of Session, Parliament House, Parliament Square, Edinburgh you THOMAS SHERIDAN being affirmed as a witness in a civil jury trial of an action for defamation then proceeding there at your instance against the News Group Newspapers Limited, 124 Portman Street, Kinning Park, Glasgow as publishers of the News of the World newspaper did falsely depone: -

(a) that at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Scottish Socialist Party held on 9 November 2004 at 70 Stanley Street, Glasgow you had not admitted you had attended Cupid’s Healthclub, 13-17 Sutherland Street, Swinton, Manchester known as Cupid’s on two occasions in 1996 and 2002 and that you had not admitted that you attended there with Anvar Begum Khan c/o Lothian and Borders Police, Police Headquarters, Fettes Avenue, Edinburgh.

(b) that at said meeting on 9 November 2004 Alan William McCombes and Keith Robert Baldassara, both c/o Lothian and Borders Police, Police Headquarters, Fettes Avenue, Edinburgh did not state that they had previously raised the issue with you of your visits to a sex club in Manchester and that you had admitted to them that it was true;

c) that at said meeting you denied having visited a swingers’ club in Manchester;

(m) that you had not attended said Cupid’s in Manchester along with Andrew McFarlane, Gary Clark, Anvar Begum Khan and Katrine Trolle all c/o Lothian and Borders Police, Police Headquarters, Fettes Avenue, Edinburgh towards the end of 2001, or had ever visited a swingers’ club;

(n) that you had an affair with said Anvar Begum Khan in late 1992 for six months only and that you did not have a sexual relationship with her from 1994 to August 2002; and

(o) you never had a sexual relationship with said Katrine Trolle and had never been with her in the house occupied by you at 2005 Paisley Road West, Cardonald, Glasgow or with her at Kingennie Court, Dundee;

the truth being as you well knew,

(A) that on 9 November 2004 at the Executive Committee meeting of the Scottish Socialist Party held at 70 Stanley Street, Glasgow you did admit to attending said Cupid’s in Manchester on two occasions in 1996 and 2002 and that you had visited said club with said Anvar Begum Khan;

(B) that at said meeting it was stated by said Alan William McCombes and Keith Robert Baldassara that they had previously raised the issue of you attending a sex club in Manchester and that you had admitted to them that it was true;

(C) that at said meeting you did not deny having visited a swingers’ club in Manchester;

M) that on 27 September 2002 you did attend said Cupid’s in Manchester with said Andrew McFarlane, Gary Clark, Anvar Begum Khan and Katrine Trolle and that you had visited a club for swingers;

(N) that between 1 January 1994 and 28 August 2003 you did have a sexual relationship with said Anvar Begum Khan; and

(O) that between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2005, both dates inclusive, you did have a sexual relationship with Katrine Trolle, that she had been in the house occupied by you at 2005 Paisley Road West, Cardonald, Glasgow with you and that you had stayed overnight with her at16 Kingennie Court, Dundee;

Any appeal against conviction lodged by Sheridan would be heard under section 106 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. These are the relevant sections of the 1995 Act:

(3) By an appeal under subsection (1) above a person may bring under review of the High Court any alleged miscarriage of justice, which may include such a miscarriage based on—
  • (a) subject to subsections (3A) to (3D) below, the existence and significance of evidence which was not heard at the original proceedings; and 
  • (b) the jury’s having returned a verdict which no reasonable jury, properly directed, could have returned.
(3A) Evidence such as is mentioned in subsection (3)(a) above may found an appeal only where there is a reasonable explanation of why it was not so heard.

(3B) Where the explanation referred to in subsection (3A) above or, as the case may be, (3C) below is that the evidence was not admissible at the time of the original proceedings, but is admissible at the time of the appeal, the court may admit that evidence if it appears to the court that it would be in the interests of justice to do so.

(3C) Without prejudice to subsection (3A) above, where evidence such as is mentioned in paragraph (a) of subsection (3) above is evidence—
  • (a) which is—(i)from a person; or (ii)of a statement (within the meaning of section 259(1) of this Act) by a person,who gave evidence at the original proceedings; and
  • (b) which is different from, or additional to, the evidence so given,it may not found an appeal unless there is a reasonable explanation as to why the evidence now sought to be adduced was not given by that person at those proceedings, which explanation is itself supported by independent evidence.

(3D) For the purposes of subsection (3C) above, “independent evidence” means evidence which—
  • (a) was not heard at the original proceedings;
  • (b) is from a source independent of the person referred to in subsection (3C) above; and
  • (c) is accepted by the court as being credible and reliable.

While Sheridan's defence - alleging a broad conspiracy against him uniting a number of people, including the News of the World and the Crown officers - may have benefited from Coulson's evidence, it shouldn't be terrifically controversial to suggest that the issues Sheridan explored only peripherally relate to the indictment laid by the Crown and the facts it set out to prove. None of this is necessarily decisive one way or the other in terms of any appeal to be lodged, but it is simply inaccurate to suggest that Sheridan was convicted on Coulson's evidence. Insofar as the assessment of Tommy's conviction as "unsound" proceeds on this assumption, it is mistaken.


  1. Interesting, one issue to recall is the News of the World's appeal against the judgement in the original civil case. Will be interesting to see if News International will be ken to pursue that.

  2. I rather flatter myself that Sheridan was convicted in no small part due to my evidence and that of my comrades and the women he sought to "destroy" (his own words) rather than the red herring that was Andy Coulson's testimony. He was called by Sheridan simply to draw even more attention and publicity to himself than he was already receiving.

  3. Also, as Tommy stated in his summation, Coulson's testimony was not central to his defence.

    As recorded by, err, me:
    "Mr Sheridan moved on, stating that it was generally rare for a defence to cite a witness who would harm their case, but that he had a sense of greater responsibility to the standards of public life, and that was why he had cited Glenn Mulcaire and Andy Coulson as witnesses – not because they would help his case, but by putting Andy Coulson in the witness box he was able to hold him to account."


  4. Hello Barbara Scott (I am assuming that is really you).

    I appreciate from your comments you feel Tommy should have been jailed.

    Putting that aside for the moment I wonder if you have any comment to make on the revelation that the News of the World executives appear to have perjured themselves in the Sheridan trial?

    Principally this concerns the continued existence of an email archive which Bob Bird of the NOTW claimed had been "lost".

    Furthermore this was an archive which the defence contended possibly contained emails that should have been released to the defence - do you agree it should, at least, have been disclosed to the defence?

    Also what is your view to today's admittance by the NOTW that their ex-editor Andy Coulson was actively authorising the corruption of police officers during his tenure as editor?

    Coulson of course claimed on oath in the Sheridan trial he had no knowledge of such payments.

    Do you think that as there is now at least a prima facie case that Coulson perjured himself and that he should be investigated according to due process?

    Do you agree that he should (if the evidence provided by the NOTW TODAY IS TRUE) that he should be prosecuted for perjury and then jailed (as Tommy was) IF found guilty of that perjury?

    Would you agree that there needs to be a public enquiry into the corrupt practices of the NOTW?

    Do you think that the SSP should and will agree to support the call for this public enquiry?

    Of course this enquiry, according to MPs, will include the benign influence of News International in live legal proceedings, their subornation of witnesses, the tampering with evidence in live legal proceedings and their (now admitted) corruption of the police?

    Many consider the Sheridan trial to be one such example of this benign influence in legal proceedings.

    No doubt it will therefore be part of this public enquiry.

    I understand that the current SSP take the opposite view and whilst considering the NOTW to be distasteful they believe the Sheridan trial was all above board.

    George McNeilage of the SSP is very likely to be called to any enquiry as he directly received £200,000.00 (from Andy Coulson) for evidence after the police investigation had started or at least when it was very likely to start.

    They then kept this tape "confession" evidence for a number of weeks before giving it to the police.

    This is a prime example of influencing live legal proceedings.

    I wonder if George is called to this enquiry to give evidence whether he will continue to support the view of the SSP & the NOTW that there was nothing fishy about these payments.

    Other SSP members MAY be called DEPENDING WHAT IS IN THE EMAILS.

    How will your view that the NOTW ACTED PROPERLY will go down with the public - never mind labour movement activists.

    Is it not time for the SSP to denounce the role of News International in the Sheridan trial as well (if you wish) condemning Tommy. That would at least show some balance.

    The silence of the SSP on the corrupt practices of the NOTW (because of your own needs to maintain the view that the Sheridan trial was above board) is deafening at this point.

    Even the Tories are ahead of the SSP on this issue at this point.

  5. Hi LPW,

    Did you not get my comment or are you just not having it?



  6. Apologies Peter. I don't screen comments - but blogger does so on its own motion, and has a suspicion of long comments. It marked your initial remarks as spam and unilaterally removed them.

    As you'll see, I've now restored them. Sorry about that.

  7. "It marked your initial remarks as spam and unilaterally removed them."

    I can't blame it for that LPW (as Whatsy will probably agree)!

    Thanks for publishing anyway. Hopefully Barbara will respond.

    I consider the revelation of the corruption of police officers by News International by huge payments, paid over many years, to be a much more serious crime than that Tommy was convicted of.

    This is a massive scandal.

    I have reviewed the SSP website regularly and it remains silent on the issue of News International corruption.

    Barbara's comments indicate the SSP policy that I have observed since the libel verdict.

    The SSP appears to be not to attack News International at all apart from the standard statement on the front of the website.

    This is strange as the SSP are perhaps in a unique position of all parties to comment on the NOTW malign influence in the UK.

    Their members were directly targeted by NOTW.

    One poor member of the SSP (Ms McGuire) was paid by the NOTW to say certain things about Tommy (that even the police said in court were most likely lies) and was then put into hospital by NOTW pressure.

    One member George McNeilage entered into a huge deal for £200,000.00 with the NOTW for evidence that should have been given directly to the police.

    The NOTW have also admitted trying to pay another SSP member (and Crown witness)Ms Katrine Trolle - although she denies any such offer.

    Their leader Tommy Sheridan himself was directly targeted by the buggers Mulcaire et al.

    The SSP were clearly therefore a target of NOTW and the Murdoch chequebook.

    For what reason the NOTW did this to the SSP is going to be at least a small part of this public enquiry process.

    It is fascinating to me therefore that the SSP have stayed silent about the malign influence of the NOTW.

    Like your blog.


  8. "I rather flatter myself that Sheridan was convicted in no small part due to my evidence "

    Having seen both of your appearances in court I would have to say that you are indeed "flattering" yourself if you think that is why TS was convicted.

  9. In the libel trial the judge unusually declared perjury had been committed because of the conflicting evidence. Of what took place in, amongst other things, SSP executive meetings.
    The police took this as a call to investigate Tommy Sheridan and they did so.
    That the investigation stopped there greatly satisfaction many.
    The prospect of a second and more comprehensive investigation is causing a sinking feeling in the stomachs of some of those so satisfied.

    We might extend LPW's caution "I am resolutely not contending that any alleged or proved perjury on Coulson's part would be irrelevant to any appeal" to any evidence that emerges.

    As Peter outlines in his questions to the strident Barbara.

  10. So pleased you've written about this Mr Worrier. Quite a few people have asked my thoughts and, as I'm not at all informed on the matter, I've been waiting for your excellent explanation. Now I can email it abroad as they say.

  11. My 2c


  12. Stourie Madouri7 July 2011 at 01:07

    I have come to the conclusion that Sheridan must be innocent as the Scottish Left could not organise the proverbial P### in a Brewery never mind a s### in a brothel.
    Nice to see Peter, James and Whatsy are still going strong and as one whose sympathies lay with the SSP I am saddened by the Barbara Scott comment although I have always been puzzled by the number of IWW members in the SSP. See the Scottish Greens magazine came online today.

  13. I have to say that the only thing I would regard as more pointless than a Scottish public inquiry into the Lockarbie bombing would be yet another re-run of the Sheridan trial.

    Heaven preserve us.

  14. James,

    I don't know anything about the civil action, I'm afraid. Being flung far afield, I'm not plugged into Court of Session scuttlebutt, one way or the other. Oh, and thanks also for the link to your piece!


    To keep my earnest legalist hat on, a rational construction of the jury verdict on the charges finally put to them, which assumes they adhered to the obligations of corroboration, means that you or others must have been believed on a number of particulars. That, at least, is what the High Court of Justiciary sitting as a criminal appeal court would make of the charge sheet, and verdict rendered.


    Profoundly interesting! Many thanks for that. I gave Sherry's mammoth final peroration a halfhearted prod - but with insufficient commitment to come across the quotation you mention. I'm not surprised Sheridan was willing to concede that Coulson's evidence was at best peripheral. I find it difficult to come up with any other interpretation of his evidence, given the charge sheet Sherry was defending himself against.


    Obviously your remarks are primarily directed at Barbara. I shan't cluttering things up by intervening. Nor will I speak for the SSP, of which I am obviously not part. On your general point, I share your feeling about the allegations of corruption in the police service. It is an appalling vista, that police officers should be milking their access to private data for serried ranks of hacks - and even conniving with them, better to facilitate the flow of filthy lucre. Contemptible. Utterly so.


    We'll see. I suspect neither of us have any independent idea of what precise lines of enquiry were followed by Lothians and Borders police in the Sheridan case.

    Stourie Madouri,

    Given one of the key planks of Sheridan's defence was that they were sufficiently organised to cabal against him, including a number of folk who do not appear natural sympathisers to the SSP, your conclusion may not strengthen the proposition that Mr Sheridan was innocent of the indictment he unsuccessfully sought to defend himself against in the High Court.


    Amen to that. At least the second part.

  15. Tommy tried bluff against an opponent with far more resource than he had -it was called, and he lost - end of story.

    The only moral strategy against these odds is to have the armour of truth on your side and even then success is not guaranteed.

    The other factors of possible corruption though only indirectly relavent to this issue, do require scrupulous investigation.

  16. hector mcglashan8 July 2011 at 16:58

    There was always a suspicion that the forces of the State were particularly keen to investigate Sheridan, and prepared to allocate enormous resources to the investigation, because his adversary was the NOTW.

    These various revelations do nothing to dispel that suspicion.

    As for Ms Scott, for all the opprobrioum heeped on Sheridan he's still held in higher regard by the left than his accusers.

  17. hector mcglashan,

    For my part, it seems entirely appropriate for the Crown thoroughly to investigate a £200,000 fraud, when there is substantial evidence implying that it has taken place. You may not believe the raft of folk who testified against the man - but the idea that the whole concern warranted no investigation is frankly ludirous.

  18. The fact that Coulson's (alleged) perjury now appears to be helping Sheridan is perhaps one of those happy coincidences - but maybe not.

    I think perhaps Tommy was being a bit sly. Despite the risk Coulson, as a hostile witness, posed he got him on oath for a future appeal if one became necessary.

    As it happens unfortunately it did become necessary.

    I appreciate your point in your main post that it was mainly the evidence of some SSP members about his supposed public "confession" to that put Sheridan on the spot.

    I also note you feel that Coulson's evidence (perjured or not) was not relevant to the proven indictments.

    This theory is sound (as far as it goes) and it has gained some "traction" especially it seems with Coulson's new brief - someone little known bloke called McBride when appearing (rather oddly) on the BBC to make his case for his yet to be charged client

    With respect to you and him I feel the theory whilst based on a nice (and nice) point has missed the wood for the trees.

    A central part of the defence was that Coulson and others "conspired" in creating evidence and bribing people who were to become Crown witnesses - including (but not limited to) some members of the SSP.

    That is the allegation - let's not shirk from it.

    Surely the jury would have been very interested if any such corruption was proven.

    They cannot be recalled of course so it is up to the higher courts to look at this.

    If there was evidence of such corruption and it was denied to the jury by witness perjury then that perjury is surely relevant.

    The fact that the perjury may have been uttered by a witness the defence called itself rather than the Crown is less than relevant.

    The difficulty the defence had was proving any corruption at the time of the trial. With the limited investigative resources available to it that is not unusual.

    That difficulty with PROVING corruption (relevant to the conviction) remains.

    There are, however, some cracks in the News International edifice that may alter that.

    I just cannot see how if there is forthcoming exposure of News International executives lying about corruption to the jury would not be sufficient to have this verdict overturned.

    I appreciate you are making a nice point but at the danger of missing the bigger picture.

    If that corruption alleged by the defence had been exposed in court AND the jury had still convicted on the basis of the evidence of some (rather shabby) SSP members about the alleged "confession" then I would say fair enough.

    If it is shown that jurors were denied access to relevant information ie. corruption, by proven perjury how can the higher courts let that pass without the whole system being brought into mockery?

  19. Peter,

    There are a number of things there! I'll just pick up on one or two of them. Firstly, I should emphasise my main goal in this article was not an exhaustive (or even particularly detailed) analysis of the issue. In his analysis on the telly, Paul McBride QC went further than I did, making categorical claims about the relevance of Coulson's evidence, even if perjured, to the Sheridan conviction. By contrast, I tried to limit myself to correcting couple of erroneous conceptions that were doing the rounds at the time, concerning 1) the precise conduct Sheridan was convicted of lying about and 2) Coulson's place in the case, and in particular, the Crown case.

    As I noted explicitly near the beginning of the piece, I was not "contending that whether or not Coulson perjured himself in the Sheridan trial is of no consequence for any appeal against conviction". I recognise that that is a potentially wider and arguable issue, for many of the reasons you present.

    There's another issue here. It may be a surprising thought, but juries are regularly only given part of the evidence which might be adduced in any given case. During the Sheridan case, a former procurator fiscal noted that it is common practice for the prosecutor to aim at a legal sufficiency of evidence - i.e. corroboration of the key elements of the charge - and then sitting down, case closed. It is more of an issue about both sides being able to explore relevant evidence and lead it in court if they decide to do so and it is relevant and admissible - rather than trials being an exhaustive trawl through all the potentially relevant information. That may be surprising, and at odds with how criminal trials are generally conceived, but it is how things really function.

    That said, it should be obvious that I share some of McBride's skepticism about this overall ground of appeal, though for the moment, I'm reserving my opinion and avoiding his categorical certainties.

  20. Hello LPW,

    It was confirmed in the hearings today that a respected corporate lawyer for News International and a very well respected law form acting for News International now stand accused of hiding emails.

    The allegation is that they kept from sight (from both the police and supposedly the wider News Int/Corporation executives inc. James Murdoch & Rebecca Wade) a number of very damaging emails obtained from the News of the World email archive.

    When these email were "discovered" Gus McDonald was employed to assess them.

    He advised the News Corp the emails contained evidence of serious criminality regarding payments to police -including allegedly to Andy Coulson.

    The emails also include information about the hacking of various people.

    I say whether or not these emails referred to Sheridan directly that the Sheridan team should have had access to those emails in the pre -trial disclosure process in 2010.

    The Sheridan team were running a specific defence i.e. that the NOTW was a criminal organisation engaging in widespread corruption of police and others.

    These hidden emails clearly would be relevant as to the general criminal nature of the organisation.

    These emails if disclosed to the Sheridan defence would at least have put the lie to CROWN witness Bob Bird's and Andy Coulson's evidence about unlawful payments to police.

    Indeed could they have given their evidence at all if the emails had been disclosed?

    Indeed it is worth noting that if the emails had been disclosed to the defence at the right time they would have entered the public domain in early to mid 2010.

    If the emails had been disclosed to Sheridan the international scandal we now see would therefore have been blown a year earlier - well BEFORE the start of the Sheridan trial which did not start until September 2010.

    I suspect that was why the News of the World did all it could to prevent disclosure - thus coming up with the cock and bull story of the supposed loss of the emails in Mumbai.

    I say if this NOTW current scandal had blown up last summer then it is unlikely Sheridan would have been convicted.

    If called by the Crown (or the defence) it is arguable the News International witnesses would have appeared to the jury as tainted and deeply corrupt.

    Would the Crown really want to continue a prosecution when its witnesses were possibly themselves facing possible or actual prosecution for payments to police; the destruction of evidence; and hacking into murdered children's phones and more?

    How could they be sure of its footing with the shifting sands of this NOTW and News International corruption beneath it?

    Would they not have concluded at least that a guilty verdict would be unlikely?

    So I say the denial of the emails to the Sheridan team was clearly to prevent the whole pack of cards falling down - it was not just to undermine the Sheridan defence.

    However, the fact that the hiding of these emails was part of a much wider agenda to prevent the temple falling of the temple does not mean Sheridan was not also a real victim of that subterfuge.

    Sheridan was collateral damage. They cared little for that of course.

    So that is what I mean when I say he would not be in jail if there had been disclosure of the emails.

    I would argue that as the defence case was (partly) that this was a deeply criminal organisation and as that defence case could not be proven without the emails that showed that to be the case then the failure to give over those emails in the disclosure process must render the trial unfair.




  21. Peter,

    In the next week or so, I intend to put together something on the case law on how the High Court of Justiciary approaches appeals based on new evidence. That should speak to some of the issues you mention in a more satisfactory way than a comment on the fly from me.