Fri, Aug 04, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Scottish MP sues paper


In the dog days of summer, a court case mixing sex, socialism and style is holding Scotland transfixed.

Tommy Sheridan, one of the country's best-known politicians, is suing a tabloid newspaper over claims he cheated on his wife, took drugs and visited sex clubs.

The News of the World branded the leftist lawmaker -- renowned for giving half his salary to the Scottish Socialist Party he helped found -- a "spanking swinger." He says he prefers Scrabble and a quiet night at home.

Sheridan -- representing himself after firing his lawyers part way through the trial -- summed up his case at Edinburgh's Court of Session on Wednesday, telling jurors: "It's my life and reputation that is on the line."

Sheridan is seeking £200,000 (US$375,000) from the News. The newspaper claims the stories it ran about Sheridan in 2004 and 2005 are "substantially true" and denies libel. It has produced a string of witnesses to back its claims.

The paper's lawyer, Michael Jones, said the case was motivated by "a truly monstrous ego, Mr Sheridan's ego."

"History is littered with the political corpses of great men who have been brought down by their own recklessness," he said.

Over the month-long trial, jurors have heard a former escort, a journalist and a member of Sheridan's party testify that they had affairs with the 42-year-old politician, a member of the Scottish Parliament. There have been claims of visits to swingers' clubs and -- as the News put it -- a "kinky four-in-a-bed orgy."

Sheridan denies the claims. On Monday, he grilled the star defense witness -- his wife, Gail.

"I appreciate this is an unusual situation and we know each other by first name," Sheridan told his wife. "But for the purposes of the court, I'm going to refer to you as Mrs Sheridan."

Gail Sheridan called the newspaper's claims "a load of absolute rubbish," and told her husband: "I believe you."

The striking political couple have seized the attention of the British media.

Tommy Sheridan came to prominence campaigning against the unpopular poll tax introduced by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the late 1980s. He was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 for the newly formed Scottish Socialist Party. He stepped down from the party leadership in 2004 for "personal reasons," but remains a member of the Scottish parliament.

He says he does not drink or smoke and gives half his £50,000 salary to his party.

Gail, a sharply dressed British Airways flight attendant who married the politician in 2000, has become a style icon, depicted accompanying her husband to court each day in a different well-matched outfit.

"Standing by your man in fine style," noted the Times newspaper with approval.

On Monday, Gail Sheridan said she would not have taken the stand if she believed the newspaper's allegations.

"There's no way I would be here," she said. "In fact, neither would you. You would be in the [River] Clyde with a piece of concrete tied round you and I would be in court for your murder."

The jury is expected to retire Thursday to consider its verdict.

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