Scottish politician wins libel case

NO WILTING VIOLET: 'News of the World' lawyer Michael Jones, said that the libel case was motivated in the first place by Tommy Sheridan's 'monstrous ego'


Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 6

A jury awarded a Scottish politician £200,000 (US$380,000) on Friday after ruling that a newspaper libeled him by claiming he took drugs and visited sex clubs.

The jury awarded Tommy Sheridan, a socialist lawmaker and Scotland's most flamboyant politician, the maximum cash damages possible against the tabloid News of the World over allegations he cheated on his wife, took part in orgies and used cocaine.

"They are liars, and we have proved that they are liars!" Sheridan declared outside the courthouse, his wife, Gail, at his side.

The 11-person jury ruled in the politician's favor in a 7-4 vote in a case that legally required a simple majority. Sheridan remained impassive as the verdict was announced, but his wife and mother Alice beside him wept.

The News of the World called the verdict astonishing and vowed to appeal.

"The basis for that appeal is that today's verdict was perverse," said Bob Bird, editor of the News of the World's Scottish edition, outside the court.

"This result suggests that 18 independent witnesses came to the court and committed monstrous acts of perjury. We simply can't accept that is what happened," Bird said.

But Sheridan -- who was flanked by five burly bodyguards provided by a rival British tabloid newspaper with editorial rights to his side of the story -- credited the jurors with the power to distinguish "the truth from the muck."

"We have over the last five weeks taken on one of the biggest organizations on the planet, with the biggest amount of resources to pay for the most expensive legal team, to throw nothing but muck against me, my wife and my family," Sheridan said as supporters in the crowd cheered.

During 23 days of evidence that gripped Scotland, the jurors heard the leftist lawmaker deny the reports and say he was a teetotaler who preferred quiet nights at home playing Scrabble.

Sheridan has built a reputation as conviction politician who gives away half his salary to the Scottish Socialist Party, the organization he co-founded.

He claims lurid headlines labeling him a "spanking swinger" published in the News of the World in 2004 and last year were an attempt to destroy his reputation.

The trial heard from a prostitute, a journalist and party worker who claimed to have slept with Sheridan. Ten members of the party claimed he had acknowledged attending a swingers' sex club.

Sheridan had risked financial and political ruin if the jury found against him. He fired his lawyers halfway through the libel hearing and conducted his own case, but had already built up a mammoth legal bill.

In an impassioned summation, Sheridan accused the newspaper of putting at risk his wife and unborn child by printing "fables" about him while she was in the early stages of pregnancy. He even offered to take off his shirt in court to prove he was "a hairy ape" in an effort to disprove the testimony of one alleged mistress.

The newspaper'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.

The judge, Lord Turnbull, told the jury they had the "unenviable task" of deciding who was lying in the case.

"It is not morality that is under examination here -- not the morality of extramarital affairs, nor the morality of journalists," the judge said. "The question is whether he [Sheridan] was defamed or not."