A party colleague of Tommy Sheridan told a perjury trial yesterday that the former MSP denied ever having visited a swingers’ club at an emergency meeting of fellow socialists.
John Penman, 60, said Sheridan told members of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 2004 that an MSP alleged in a News of the World article to have attended a sex club could not have been him.
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A total of 15 people have told the jury at the High Court in Glasgow that Sheridan admitted the claim at the gathering on 9 November.
Former Rosyth dockyard worker Penman, who was a member of the SSP before joining socialist party Solidarity, said he was in no doubt about what he heard.
Penman said: “He said that the MSP couldn’t be him. He said the description was all wrong. He said the MSP had gone to swingers’ clubs and I’ve never been to a swingers’ club.”
Advocate Depute Alex Prentice QC said: “You’re in no doubt he said that?”
The witness, whose current job he gave as a driver, said “yes” and told the jury that Sheridan went on: “And it says the MSP gets drunk and takes cocaine. I don’t drink and I don’t take cocaine. You know that that’s not me.”
Penman said that Sheridan told colleagues that he didn’t think the article referred to anybody, that he thought it was “just a made-up story”.
Asked what he would do if he was later named as the MSP in question, Penman said Sheridan told the meeting: “I would take them all the way.”
This meant, the witness explained to judge Lord Bracadale, that he would take the paper to court.
Sheridan and his wife Gail, both 46, are accused of lying under oath during his successful libel action against the News of the World in 2006 after which he was awarded £200,000 in damages. The couple deny the charges.
Penman said that previous witness and SSP member Alan McCombes had put it to Sheridan at the meeting that he was the unnamed MSP.
He said: “He denied it, he said ‘rubbish, nonsense’ or something like that.”
Prentice asked Penman about conversations and meetings the prosecutor suggested he had with nine other party colleagues during which Penman said that Sheridan had admitted the paper’s claims at the emergency gathering in Glasgow.
The witness denied telling anyone this.
The Advocate Depute said: “If I suggest to you that you were present at a meeting in Tayport with Jack McPherson and his father, and I suggest that you said to them that Mr Sheridan had admitted going to the sex clubs, what would you say?”
Penman said: “That’s not true.”
The prosecutor later said: “Is it not the case that you did hear Mr Sheridan admit visiting the sex club in 2004 and that the assertion that he denied it is a lie?”
The witness said “No.”
Under cross examination by Sheridan, who is conducting his own defence in the case, Penman told of a “power struggle” in the SSP national office.
He said: “It was obvious that there were people who didn’t like you and there was a clique developing within the Scottish Parliament and within the national office.
“It appeared to me that there was a power struggle developing.”
Penman was asked if he was aware of a group called the United Left.
He replied: “Yes, they seemed to be meeting in private and all of a sudden they declared themselves. I thought, ‘That’s a very unhealthy development’.”
Asked what the group’s purpose was, he said: “To bring down Tommy Sheridan.”
Sheridan also asked the witness during questioning: “Would you be willing to risk going to prison for perjury for me?”
He said: “No.”
Sheridan has previously questioned witnesses from the SSP about a “plot to undermine me politically” and a “cabal” against him.
Giving evidence today, McCombes, a former press and policy officer of the SSP, said he was not involved in factions within the party.
He told the trial: “I wasn’t involved in any faction within the SSP. I argued against that.
“I was attacked quite robustly for being what was called a liquidator by people who are now in your Solidarity Party.
“I was attacked by people who are now in your Solidarity Party for abandoning Marxism and Leninism in favour of a broad socialist party.”
McCombes was also questioned about a video apparently showing Sheridan discussing the case with George McNeilage, which was obtained by the News of the World following the libel trial.
Sheridan asked him if he had “scripted” the video and “helped” McNeilage to make the film.
McCombes told him: “That is nonsense. Neither did I hire Rory Bremner to do an impression of you, Tommy.
“I did not write a script for that tape and that is another scurrilous false accusation.”
The indictment against the Sheridans contains three charges in total, two of which are broken down into subsections.
It is alleged that he made false statements as a witness in the defamation action of July 21 2006.
He also denies a charge of attempting to persuade a witness to commit perjury shortly before the 23-day trial got under way.
Mrs Sheridan denies making false statements on July 31 2006, after being sworn in as a witness in the civil jury trial.
The trial was adjourned until later today.