The editor of the Scottish News of the World had to strip to his boxer shorts before being allowed to watch a video tape which apparently showed Tommy Sheridan “confessing” to visiting a sex club, a court heard on Friday.
George McNeilage said he offered the tape of the “secretly” filmed meeting after Sheridan’, his former friend and schoolmate, won a libel action against the newspaper and denounced members of the Scottish Socialist Party as “scabs”.
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McNeilage told the former MSP’s perjury trial at the High Court in Glasgow he asked the newspaper for £250,000 for the tape.
The 46-year-old, a founder member of the SSP and best man at Sheridan’s wedding, said he made editor Bob Bird remove his clothes in his living room because he wanted to check he was not wearing a wire as he “didn’t trust him”.
When he arrived, McNeilage said he held up a sign reading: “Don’t speak, take your clothes off.”
He said: “He just did it, took his clothes off. He was in his boxer shorts. I put them (Bird’s clothes) in a black bag and took them round the back.
“I was just playing a game. I had the News of the World editor standing in my living room in his boxer shorts. It was just a bizarre situation.”
He said he wanted the same amount of money Sheridan was awarded in damages following his libel action, with another £50,000 added on to pay for a community centre in Pollok.
He said: “If I’m going to be dragged into this, there’s no way I’m going to be giving them that as a freebie and he got £200 grand for all the lies he told in the first place.”
“He just whistled.”
The tape, for which the newspaper eventually paid £200,000, was recorded in November 2004, the court was told.
He said he filmed the meeting, held in the house he was renovating, because he thought other people deserved to hear what Sheridan had to say.
Sheridan had called McNeilage and asked to meet him for a discussion, so he set up a video camera and hid it among building debris.
On the tape, a man McNeilage identified as Sheridan can be heard denouncing the Scottish Socialist Party as “c****”, as well as describing Katrine Trolle as a “diamond” who would “never admit to anything” and saying he had “made a mistake”.
The man is heard to say: “If I am presented with incontrovertible evidence, I’ll put my hands up and I’ll say I am sorry and I’ll walk away.”
The tape ended with the man saying: “I have dealt with it, George. I have f****** dealt with it and now I am free.”
McNeilage told the court the contents of the tape were so “horrific” he felt he could not show it.
He said: “I had a decision to make – whether to show it to people – but it was horrific. I couldn’t show it as it was horrible.”
McNeilage said he continued to keep the tape a secret until the outcome of the civil jury trial in August 2006.
He said he did not bring it forward during the civil jury trial because he did not want to be seen as a “grass”, adding that he did not expect Sheridan to win. He said: “I still feel guilty to this day that I didn’t bring it forward.”
But following his successful action, Sheridan gave an interview to the Daily Record newspaper in which he denounced his former SSP colleagues, including Colin Fox, Rosie Kane, Carolyn Leckie and Frances Curran, as “scabs”.
McNeilage said he felt “physically sick” when he saw the article, and decided to contact the News of the World about the tape.
He told the Advocate Depute Alex Prentice QC: “He took £30,000 from the Record to call good, honest people scabs. I gave it to the beast. Tit for tat.”
Under cross-examination from Sheridan, who is conducting his own defence, McNeilage said Sheridan`s suggestion that the tape was a fake were “absolute fantasy land”.
He told the politician: “I know it’s me and you, you know it’s me and you.
“You are a fake, and you have shown that over the past few weeks by abusing your wife and putting her in the dock.
“You’re the real fraud. Socialists need to have empathy, you need to have real feelings, and you don’t have real feelings.
“You’re the hypocrite and the fake Tommy, totally fake. You’re a liar and everyone in Pollok knows that. The people in the community who we both grew up with, they all know what you are.”
The trial, before Lord Bracadale, was adjourned until later today.