'A cocktail of sex and political intrigue'

By Raymond Buchanan
Political correspondent

Image caption,
Sheridan dispensed with his senior legal team and chose to represent himself

Part pantomime, part x-rated screenplay, the Sheridan perjury trial has been the most compelling free show in Scotland.

For three months the High Court in Glasgow has hosted the politician, his wife and a long list of detractors spitting insults and accusations across the wood-panelled furniture.

Unsurprisingly this cocktail of celebrity, sex and political intrigue has drawn crowds.

Those entering the court precinct just before 10 o'clock every morning were greeted by long queues contained behind thick knotted rope patiently waiting for the day's evidence.

But this wasn't entertainment, though it was often entertaining to those with no stake in the outcome.

It was serious - at risk was the liberty of a man and, for 11 weeks, that of his wife.

Tommy Sheridan faced (often expletive-rich) evidence that he was a liar, a cheat and a hypocrite but he chose to sack his senior legal team and represent himself.

Image caption,
Lord Bracadale had to ask witnesses and the accused to quieten down

They lined up to condemn him as a fraud. Sheridan and former SSP colleagues engaged in loud, verbal combat.

The judge, Lord Bracadale, frequently intervened to demand witness and amateur lawyer calm down.

As these exchanges were reported, the crowds grew larger. At one point Gail Sheridan found she was at the end of the line. She just made it into the dock before the judge and jury took their seats.

The couple often looked remarkably cheery for two people facing time behind bars. Often, they were fuelled by sweets provided by Mrs Sheridan's lawyer Paul McBride QC.

As journalist Anvar Khan outlined what she said were long-standing sexual relations with the former MSP, two jelly figures sat on the dock - eaten only when the evidence was finally over.

There was laughter from the public gallery when Rosie Kane, struggling to read a document, turned to the audience and said "should have gone to Specsavers".

For the second half of the trial, part of the court resembled a crime scene, as police tape cordoned off the row of seats directly behind the dock.

There had been a complaint from Crown witness Alan McCombes about comments from the public as he gave his evidence. Tommy's mother, Alice, was sitting closest to those in the witness box.

By the end of week five Sheridan's energetic performances were waning.

Image caption,
Alice Sheridan has been in court every day to support her son

He complained of being physically and mentally exhausted.

Having sacked three lawyers, he was staying up until the early hours of the morning preparing each cross-examination.

By week six he was off with exhaustion and facing hospital tests due to increased blood pressure.

Sheridan had just finished listening to two days of evidence from one of the best men at his wedding.

Pest controller George McNeilage made £200,000 by selling the News of the World a video of the former MSP said to be confessing to the "biggest mistake" of his life by admitting to party colleagues he'd been to the swingers' club.

Later admonished

The exchanges between the former friends were so robust Mr McNeilage ended up swapping the witness box for the dock. The judge Lord Bracadale had warned him that his answers risked contempt of court.

Mr McNeilage admitted the offence but was later admonished.

Soon there was another Crown witness facing contempt proceedings. Matt McColl refused to answer questions from Paul McBride QC.

In a bad-tempered exchange Mr McColl was warned by the judge it was "unwise to talk over me".

Image caption,
Mr McColl faced claims from Mr McBride QC that he had lied during his evidence

He was spared punishment after he apologised and claimed he hadn't taken his medication before giving evidence. The court was told the witness was on pills after receiving a kidney transplant.

When he returned to give evidence Mr McColl was demolished by Paul McBride QC.

He was forced to admit he'd misled police and had himself been to a sex club. Much of the cross-examination led to laughter from the public gallery.

Mr McBride asked how much the 50-year-old had been drinking on the day he claimed to have seen the then MSP at a hotel sex party.

Mr MccColl said "a few". Paul McBride said in Glasgow that meant anything between "a glass of Chardonnay and five bottles of Mad Dog 20/20".

By the end of the cross-examination the Crown were ready to abandon charges relating to any alleged hotel orgy. Gail Sheridan hugged her lawyer. She knew at this point the few remaining charges against her would eventually be scrapped too.

The defence case saw the prime minister's chief spin doctor sharing the court corridor with the waiting crowds.

Wide smile

In a scene which seemed ideal for an episode of 'The Thick of It', Andy Coulson wandered around the High Court, looking impatient, with his mobile phone glued to his ear.

Tommy Sheridan emerged with a wide smile after two days of questioning the Downing Street director of communications.

He revelled in his ability to summon one of the most influential men in a Conservative government - privately describing it as "one for the movement".

This would be a rare moment of joy for Sheridan. For the vast majority of the case he was outwitted by the prosecutor, Alex Prentice QC.

Mr Prentice made it clear to the jury this was not a contest between the Socialist and a powerful newspaper group.

He insisted this was a simple matter of truth versus lies. The jury sided with the softly spoken QC and not the more robust Sheridan.

In doing so they have he exposed Tommy Sheridan as a liar whose political ambitions ultimately foundered on desire and deceit.