Scottish Socialist Party members did not want to hand minutes of a meeting where Tommy Sheridan admitted twice visiting a swingers’ club to court officials because it would have “dropped Tommy in it”, a jury heard today.
Barbara Scott, who took the minutes at the November 9, 2004 meeting, said a citation asking for the documents was sent to the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) headquarters ahead of Mr Sheridan’s civil defamation action.
He won £200,000 in damages after the News of the World printed allegations about his private life.
The ex-MSP and his wife Gail, both 46, are accused of lying under oath during Sheridan’s successful 2006 defamation action against the newspaper. They deny the allegations.
On the second day of the perjury trial at the High Court in Glasgow, Scott told the court the SSP was reluctant to hand over minutes of the meeting at which, the court had earlier heard, Sheridan had admitted twice visiting a swingers’ club in Manchester.
She said: “The party didn’t want to hand them over because they would have dropped Tommy in it.”
She had not seen the minutes since late November 2004 when she had handed them in to the party.
However she said there had been talk of changing minutes and she decided she wanted to get them back.
They were returned to her after she asked for them.
Scott, 40, told the court: “I just thought I want to have them. I want to decide what I do with them because there was already talk in the party about whether or not to destroy minutes or change them.”
The court heard she was a witness in the earlier civil case and was cross-examined by Mr Sheridan.
She said: “He said I had fabricated the whole minutes after the fact as part of a conspiracy against him.”
Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC asked what she thought of the theory.
She replied: “It’s laughable and not true.”
Dressed in a putty-coloured trouser suit and ruffled cream blouse, Sheridan sat close to her husband in the dock today.
The indictment against the Sheridans contains three charges in total, two of which are broken down into a number of sub-sections.
Mr Sheridan denies lying to the courts during his case, which followed the newspaper’s claims that he was an adulterer who had visited a swingers’ club.
It is alleged he made false statements as a witness in the defamation action on July 21, 2006.
He also denies another charge of attempting to persuade a witness to commit perjury shortly before the 23-day legal action 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 at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
Jailed for contempt
The court was told that SSP member Alan McCombes was jailed for contempt of court after he refused to hand the minutes to the court.
Scott explained that the SSP wanted to keep the minutes for “political” reasons.
She said: “It was a political decision. It was a personal matter. I agreed with it. They were our documents and the state didn’t have any right to our documents.”
Scott told the trial she had not wanted to appear at Mr Sheridan’s 2006 libel trial.
She said: “I didn’t want anything to do with it. It was a civil case between him (Tommy Sheridan) and a newspaper.
“I just really didn’t want to be involved. I didn’t want to help the News of the World.
“I knew what he was going to say was lies but at the same time I don’t like the News of the World – I don’t think it’s a very nice newspaper. It’s a right-wing rag that prints horrible pictures of women.
“I just didn’t want to be involved with it, but unfortunately I was cited by both sides.”
Under cross-examination by Maggie Scott QC, appearing for Mr Sheridan, Scott said she took the minutes with her to the libel trial but did not show them because no-one asked for them.
She said she was “only there to answer the questions” that were posed to her by the two parties’ legal teams.
But she handed the documents to the police after the libel action because she was angered by Mr Sheridan’s court victory.
She said: “I didn’t like the verdict because the whole evidence Tommy gave was lies.”
She also reiterated that Mr Sheridan told the emergency meeting he intended to deny the story to the press.
She said: “He was saying he wanted to deny it and he didn’t want anyone else to make any comment – to leave it to him to deal with.”
Scott was also questioned about the way her notes from the meeting were typed into the formal minutes.
She was asked why there was no agenda, and no matters arising from the previous meeting included in the minutes.
She said: “The whole thing was incredibly abnormal – and still is.
“It wasn’t a normal committee meeting. It was an emergency one.
“There wasn’t an agenda. It was to discuss one issue which was unprecedented. It was very unique.”
Scott also said it was “quite normal” for Allan Green, a member of the party’s executive committee, to be involved with typing up the minutes in the party’s office in Glasgow, saying he would make suggestions about what should be included, or taken out.
Cross-examining Scott, Paul McBride QC, representing Mrs Sheridan, asked why she had taken members of the media when she handed the minutes to police.
She replied: “I wanted to do it in public because I was a wee bit worried about being threatened.
“I believe it had been reported in the press that other witnesses said they had been pressured not to give evidence so I wanted it to be in public that I had gone there.”
Sheridan ‘asked former treasurer to lie’
Later, the former Treasurer of the Scottish Socialist Party told the court Mr Sheridan had approached her and asked her to lie for him in the days after he admitted visiting the swingers’ club.
Alison Kane was a member of the executive committee who Mr Sheridan told he had visited Cupid’s club in Manchester twice.
She is the second person to give evidence in the trial.
After the emergency meeting, in the party’s offices in Stanley Street, Glasgow, she said Mr Sheridan, who was once one of her best friends, was left “fighting for his political life” but “had lost the plot”.
She said he had asked to meet her, and then asked her to lie about other members of the party and persuade the remaining members of the committee to get rid of the minutes detailing his confession.
The 42-year-old, who has since left the party and now works as a part-time lecturer and accountant, told how Mr Sheridan was “one of my best friends”, but that their friendship ended after she told the party’s executive what he had asked her to do.
She said she spoken to Sheridan between four and five days after the meeting in Stanley Street, when he asked to meet her.
She told the court: “Tommy had wanted to meet with me and see me. He was fighting for his political life and he saw me as a friend and an ally. He thought I would help him.
“He wanted me to meet with the press and say lies about other people. Tommy was aware of the minutes and he asked me to ‘rattle some cages’ so no minutes were produced.
“He wanted for them not to be produced – for me to suggest to other people that we should lose those minutes. Tommy wanted any minutes to disappear – for there to be no minutes.
“We haven’t spoken since. I saw that he was putting himself above the movement. I thought he had lost the plot by that stage.
“It broke my heart to do it. I realised the course of action Tommy was proposing would destroy our party. It would make it unelectable.”
Kane said the first she learned of the allegations was when she was asked to attend the emergency meeting.
She said she was told there was “something of a very serious nature that could affect the party”.
Later, she learned the matter involved Mr Sheridan and telephoned him ahead of the meeting.
She said: “He said it was the first he heard of it. Tommy was in a state of shock, wondering what was going on.”
She also recalled how his admission was met with shock and tears by the members of the executive.
She told advocate depute Prentice: “He explained that he had attended a sex club in Manchester called Cupids. He said he had been a couple of times and that it was possible there may be something in the press the following Sunday.
“I wasn’t happy because I realised what it would mean for Tommy, for our party.
“At that time Tommy and I had a close personal friendship. It was a shock. It was a shock for most people to hear what Tommy had to say. You could have heard a pin drop.”
Under cross examination from Scott QC, Kane said the party was in debt to the tune of £176,000 at the time the allegations about Mr Sheridan were made.
But she denied that the former MSP was put under pressure to step down as convener so the party wouldn’t have to pay for the libel action he intended to take against the News of the World.
She said financial problems went “hand in hand” with left wing politics, and insisted the party had refused to back him because he intended to lie to the public and the press.
Scott QC also showed her what she described as “mystery minutes” for the emergency meeting on November 9, 2004, which contained no reference to Mr Sheridan admitting he had attended the swingers’ club.
Kane told the court it was “a big omission”.
She said: “Those are not the correct minutes. With all due respect concerning that, you were not there at the meeting and I was.”
The trial continues.