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—
(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.
- (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.
(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.