14 January 2011

Sheridan questions in Holyrood...

Between his stints on the Justice Committee, the Scotland Bill Committee* - and planning for his retirement after his Glasgow Liberal Democratic colleagues effectively deselected him - the party's justice spokesman Robert Brown has lodged the following questions in Holyrood pertaining to certain weel-kent aspects of the BBC's coverage of the verdict in H.M. Advocate v. Sheridan:

S3W-38760 - Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD) (Date Lodged Wednesday, January 12, 2011): To ask the Scottish Executive what guidelines cover the release of information and documents by the (a) police, (b) Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and (c) courts to the press or public in connection with criminal prosecutions.

 S3W-38761 - Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD) (Date Lodged Wednesday, January 12, 2011): To ask the Scottish Executive what documents were released by the police, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service or the court to the press or public in connection with the prosecution of Her Majesty’s Advocate v Thomas Sheridan and Gail Sheridan.

S3W-38762 - Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD) (Date Lodged Wednesday, January 12, 2011): To ask the Scottish Executive whether recordings of interviews under caution with Tommy and Gail Sheridan by police officers of Lothians and Borders Police were officially released to the BBC and, if not, what action has been taken regarding the use of this material in the BBC programme, The Rise and Lies of Tommy Sheridan.

Appropriately enough, these questions are due to receive their answers from the Scottish Government on the 26th of January, when Tommy Sheridan will be taking to his hind legs to petition Lord Bracadale for mercy (or in the alternative, to reformulate and re-utter his noisy exculpations). For those expecting an uplifting Chavezesque harangue, bear in mind that Lord Bracadale will hardly be willing to sit quietly through another five hour peroration, particularly if its relevance to the matter in hand is tenuous. Having been convicted, the hearing has significantly less potential for Sheridan to redefine the issues in a manner more convivial to his avowed position that he has been the honest victim of a wide-ranging political conspiracy. A party litigant's jury address is one thing, his plea in mitigation is quite another.

*The Committee's most recent evidence session on the 11th of January was a blistering affair, without any hint of an ennobling, convivial atmosphere. In brief, I think it is fair to say that professors Andrew Hughes-Hallett and Drew Scott got "Wendied". University of Edinburgh academic, Alan Trench, described the exchanges as "highly acrimonious" and has decided to withdraw from giving evidence to the Committee himself.  He sets out his reasons in full in his post. I won't attempt to paraphrase them here.


  1. Hope it is ok to nick this for ones' online musings (with credit of course)



  2. Of course James. The questions are a matter of public record, as they say.

  3. Any idea why questions are asked about the Sheridan interview tapes being broadcast? Peter Tobin's police interview was shown on TV, and several others, but no questions in the press or parliament then.

    Is this just more of the privileged treatment Sheridan has received, or is it because, this time, the danger of exposing other folk's private foibles has been spotted?

  4. Psychologist,

    The Tobin case had entirely slipped my mind, but as you suggest, small clips of footage from his police interviews were indeed widely published by the BBC. You can still see a snippet here.

  5. ITV broadcast Tobin's too. Several police interviews are still online, from Barry George, Guardian, to Vanessa George, ITN - fewer Scottish tapes are broadcast but that's in keeping with less media interest in Scottish news.

    The BBC did nothing unusual in broadcasting Sheridan's interview, though use of his wife's probably required her permission. So why the stushie?

  6. I notice Robert Brown has couched his first question in general terms (a) what are the guidelines addressing the three agencies releasing data? The second seems to be aiming to elicit (b) what data was officially released (which says something about whether any guidelines were adhered to or not) while (c) is seeking to clarify the status of the BBC material. Was it "officially released", subject to any guidelines which obtain - or despite them - or was it an "unofficial" leak, warranting investigation? For my own part, I have no knowledge about what guidelines may or may not obtain in these circumstances.

    These seem to me to be reasonable pre-stooshie questions of clarity to pose. That they are being posed is not, to my eye, particularly problematic. They are plain issues which interest a section of the public and which it seems quite reasonable to ask public servants about.

    The significance of the answers is another question entirely.

  7. I look forward to the first suspect who refuses to answer questions in an interview after being cautioned that anything they say maybe taken down in evidence and shown, just before Eastenders, on BBC 1

  8. James, more likely to shop their granny for a TV appearance. Bright lights and a studio audience could be the future of police enquiry.

    Lallans, yes, Brown's language is hardly overheated. I was being too brief, and meant 'stushie' to encompass the amount of reporting on this, from Herald to Mail, and online discussion, without a single journalist (that I've noticed) pointing out it's been done before, and informing us if release is commonplace, and broadcast possible for any or all police interviews.

    I regret the impoverished state of modern journalism which can only parrot from the wires rather than get out there and dig. But, yes too, the answers Brown receives will be interesting.

  9. Brown's language may not be overheated but anyone with half a brain at Holyrood (admittedly a small proportion) kens fine that the Scottish Government doesn't write guidelines for the likes of the Crown Office and the courts and is unlikely even to get sight of them, except in the persons of the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General. Nor is it likely to know much about what documents are released unless these rather defiantly independent bodies tell it. And I imagine that will be pretty well what the answers to his questions will be.

  10. Psychologist,

    I took that to be your broad position and you raise important points, to which we might add the issue of pre-trial "plea bargaining". This is a hugely commonplace practice. I do not have any statistics to hand, however, to suggest that proposing a guilty plea in return for a lesser penalty is per se problematic in an individual case is to propose a wholesale structural shift. And one might well ask, why the sudden interest?

  11. That's likely true enough, Am Firinn. No doubt the text of the answers will be largely obscured by coverage of Lord Bracadale's remarks on sentencing. That said, in part because of the institutional reasons you mention, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if the Government's responses prove singularly uninformative.

  12. Interesting insight Am Firinn, may I ask who then the Crown reponsible to? (other than Her Majesty of course)

  13. James - sorry for the delay. I'm sure you know fine well that the Crown Office is responsible, if such a word may be used of it at all, to the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate is a semi-detached member of the Scottish Government, and it is the bit of her that is in charge of the prosecution system that is the completely detached end. And this, I suppose, is as it should be, or Kenny would order it to put Wendy Alexander on petition not just for electoral offences, but fraud as well. And that would be terrible, wouldn't it?