Sheridan trial: Lies, betrayal and new allegations

By Mark Daly
BBC Scotland Investigations Correspondent


Former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan has been convicted of perjury. The case was brought after he won £200,000 in a defamation action against the News of the World in 2006.

He took the paper to court over articles which claimed he was an adulterer who had visited a swingers' club. His wife Gail was acquitted of perjury on Friday.

BBC Scotland investigations correspondent Mark Daly examines the police investigation which culminated in Thursday's High Court verdict.

Tommy Sheridan sits in the corner of the small room; dressed head to toe in black with arms folded defiantly.

He does not rage or shout at his interrogators. He is, in fact, polite, concise and co-operative.

And for more than six hours during his interview with detectives following his arrest in 2007, he denies that he is an adulterer and a swinger, and that he lied about it in court.

The BBC has obtained the tapes of both Tommy and Gail Sheridan's police interviews, which are not only a fascinating insight into how the pair react under intense questioning, but also reveal fresh allegations about Sheridan's sex life.

The interviews were conducted midway through a Lothian and Borders Police investigation, which led to the High Court in Glasgow.

For the past 12 weeks, Sheridan and his wife have fought out a desperate battle for their freedom.

image captionGail Sheridan was acquitted of perjury on Friday

More than 70 witnesses have been called, and every element of Sheridan's case has been pored over in minute detail in front of a packed courtroom.

The perjury charges alleged he had lied about his sex life in his successful defamation action against his sworn enemy the News of the World in 2006.

He'd denied being a swinger and an adulterer and gave a rousing victory speech outside the Court of Session, denouncing the newspaper as liars. But his victory caused a backlash.

First, former colleague Barbara Scott took along a set of minutes from the infamously disputed SSP national executive meeting from 9 November, 2002. These were said to prove Sheridan had admitted to going to a swingers' club.

Then, one of his oldest friends completed a quite sensational betrayal.

George McNeilage had been best man at Sheridan's wedding, but he secretly recorded a conversation in which the former MSP allegedly confesses all.

Then he sold it to the News of the World for £200,000.

I asked Mr McNeilage how he felt about coming to court and giving evidence against the man with whom he was once inseparable.

He said: "No problem. I didn't like him. I don't like him.

"I just wanted to deal with the issue, let's go, let's deal with it. I know that it's you on the tape, you know that it's you on the tape. He shouldn't have taken the trial on in the first place."

Sheridan denied the tape was authentic, and insisted an actor had impersonated his voice.

But it provided the platform for an investigation which spanned more than 50,000 police hours and cost the taxpayer about £1.2m.

From the police tapes, the BBC can reveal fresh claims about Tommy Sheridan's sexual behaviour, dating back to 1996, which speak directly to the allegations he faced concerning group sex, and which also implicate a well-known Scottish football personality.

Two women have provided statements to the police alleging they had three-in-a-bed sex with Sheridan and the football personality.

One of the women is Anvar Khan, who claimed to have had an affair with the former MSP, and to have accompanied him to Cupids sex club in Manchester.

The BBC has decided not to name the other man. Ms Khan claims the incident took place in 1999, the year before Sheridan got married.

She told police that Sheridan arrived at her home with the other man. She said: "I then knew that XXX wasn't just going to watch, he was going to take an active part in it. I then had sex with them both."

Sheridan denied the allegation.

The police tapes also show how under questioning, Gail exercised her right to silence. During her interview, Gail, a Catholic, clutched her rosary beads.

image captionDuring the police interview, Sheridan denied the group sex allegation made by Anvar Khan

But during a break from questioning, detectives removed the beads from her, and suggested she may have had Provisional IRA terrorist training.

The detective said: "Gail, I must ask you at this time, who has schooled you to make no comment, or sit and focus on one point on the wall?

"Because I can tell you now I have interviewed people who have been held, held under the Terrorism Act … and that is the kind of activity I would expect from them.

"It's a recognised PIRA form of terrorism technique, focus on a spot on the wall, focus at the table, focus at the roof, focus at the bin, say nothing.

"Who's trained you in the technique?"

Gail does not respond.

In his first extensive television interview since his arrest in 2007, Sheridan told the BBC he had been the victim of a conspiracy. The interview, filmed just two weeks before the verdict, is to be screened on Thursday night.

He told me: "I may have to spend time behind bars because the jury's found me guilty of a crime that I haven't committed but I'm no finished.

"I'll come back stronger because there'll still be injustice in the world when I get out of jail whenever that is."

But now a Glasgow jury has decided that Tommy Sheridan was a liar.

The Rise and Lies of Tommy Sheridan will be broadcast on Thursday 23 December at 2100 GMT on BBC One Scotland. It will be available on the BBC iPlayer for a week afterwards.