Scottish Herald (Dec 10)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 01:53

Dramatic fall from grace for champion of the people
by Alison Campsie
Published in the Scottish Herald: 24 Dec 2010

He advanced through a dark battlefield of sex, lies, power and truth, waging a war against the tabloid press and the stories it printed about his private life.

But Tommy Sheridan ultimately became his own enemy, isolated by his attempt to rewrite history and erase a predilection for kinky trysts and lust for women other than his wife, Gail.

Yesterday, Sheridan was found guilty of perjury after 12 grinding weeks at the High Court in Glasgow. It was here that his downfall was staged in the most devastating fashion: in the full glare of his wife, his mother, and a packed public gallery, with spectators queuing every day for one of the 100 or so available seats.

Four years earlier, Sheridan had stood triumphant on the steps of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, punching the air alongside his wife, after convincing a jury that stories published in the News of the World about his private life were not proven to be true.

Then, he praised the “ordinary people” of the jury for their ability to differentiate truth from muck. It is now clear that Sheridan is not equipped with the same virtue.

Yesterday, he left court as he entered every day for 48 days, with his wife Gail, smiles clenched and hands gripped together. This time, however, he was mobbed by cheering supporters, surrounded by friends turned minders who scuffled with photographers in a bid to shield the Sheridans. He will be home for Christmas, to return to court on January 26 to receive a custodial sentence.

The seeds of his downfall were planted when Sheridan was at the height of his powers. Elected in 1999 as the first MSP of the newly formed Scottish Socialist Party, he went on to lead the most successful left-wing party in Europe, with the SSP earning six seats at the 2003 Holyrood election. 

People connected with the man from Pollok who refused to take his full parliamentary salary. For some, his appeal endures today, with Sheridan even signing autographs for supporters as he waited in the lobby of the High Court for his trial to get under way.

But what is known now is that Sheridan was leading a double life. While trading on a public profile fuelled by honesty and decency, Sheridan was cheating on Gail in the most damning of ways.

Katrine Trolle, a former lover, took part in group sex with Sheridan and his brother-in-law Andrew McFarlane, the court heard. Journalist Anvar Khan told the jury she, too, had slept with Sheridan on a number of occasions.

All went to the now infamous Cupid’s swingers’ club in Manchester in 2002, along with former professional footballer Gary Clark.

Stories about Sheridan’s sex club visits started to circulate soon afterwards. He had already confided in two of his closest friends and comrades, Alan McCombes and Keith Baldassara, but now journalists were talking.

The News of the World was already probing his private life, triggered by a tip he was having an affair with a high profile media figure.

The touchpaper was lit by a story by Ms Khan, then a freelance writer with the paper, during the promotion of her book Pretty Wild, described as a Scottish Sex And The City- style diary. In it, she included a fictionalised account of the trip to Cupid’s, using fake names to hide identities. 

On October 31, 2004, the Sunday tabloid carried a spread on an unnamed MSP and his love for spanking and swingers’ clubs. Sheridan was not directly named but its publication set him on the road to ruination. 

The story appeared just days after Gail, then 40, had the first scan of her unborn baby. On the day of publication, Mr McCombes, official spokesman for the SSP, stared at the front page of the tabloid in fear. He knew the story was about his friend and comrade.

Mr Baldassara, then a Glasgow councillor and a parliamentary assistant to Sheridan, also knew that his boss was at the heart of the story. 

An emergency meeting of the SSP was called. The date sticks in the memory for all concerned: November 11, 2004. It was described in court as the party’s 9/11, “the night our totem came crashing down,” according to MSP Colin Fox.

That night, tension rippled through party headquarters at Stanley Street, Glasgow, as members packed into the small office. People froze as Sheridan began to speak. He mostly kept his head down, staring at a pad of A4 paper on his knee. Yes, he was the unnamed MSP in the News of the World article. Yes, he had been to a swingers’ club called Cupid’s on two occasions, once in 1996 and again in 2002 with Anvar Khan.

The socialists were stunned, but Sheridan had more to say. Yes, he was going to fight the paper because there was not one piece of proof that he had been to the club. The first stone in the fight between Sheridan and the loathed, union-bashing, Murdoch-owned newspaper had been cast.

Grown men cried at that meeting, with the SSP suddenly shattered. Sheridan left early, announcing he had to be at dinner with his wife’s sisters to show them the scan of his unborn child, now their five-year-old daughter, Gabrielle.

Carolyn Leckie recalled: “He manipulated the situation to make us feel guilty. He used his family as a human shield.”

That meeting was a major chapter in the prosecution’s case. Sixteen people said Sheridan admitted that night to visiting Cupid’s. Four said no admission was made.

By this time, journalists were in overdrive. Briefings were given that Sheridan had been pushed out in a coup led by one of his oldest friends, Mr Fox.

Sheridan’s action against the News of the World grew closer and his panic seemed to deepen. He attempted to persuade Mr Fox, who took over from him as SSP leader following his resignation, to commit perjury too. Mr Fox refused. The request came little more than a fortnight before the defamation case began in July 2006.

Sheridan sacked his legal team during the case – as he would later do in the perjury trial – and went on to represent himself in typically barnstorming fashion, eventually convincing the jury that he was “hardly likely to have time for any secret life of sexual Olympics”.

Lord Turnbull awarded him £200,000 damages.

But Sheridan’s victory was shortlived. The conflicting evidence from SSP members attending the same meeting led Lord Turnbull to suggest a perjury probe may be necessary. 

Just over a month later a new piece of evidence emerged – a secret video filmed by George McNeilage, Sheridan’s former best man.

Mr McNeilage sold it to the tabloid for £200,000 and a police investigation was launched, with the video capturing a confession from Sheridan that he had visited Cupid’s.

Yesterday, the power of the truth prevailed – not seen through a left-wing or right-wing prism, just the truth.

The latest draft of history has been written and Tommy Sheridan is guilty.

Ego led him to sack his lawyer ... and he lied to protect self-image

THE LIES: It was Sheridan’s ego that led him to sack his QC and lead his own defence, arguably his biggest mistake.

Psychologist Dr Dorothy Rowe told The Herald Sheridan’s move to lead his own defence was an extreme position to take as he tried to keep his lies alive.

The associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and author of Why We Lie said: “It is a way of saying that nobody else will believe you – ‘I know that I am telling the truth’. It is a most extreme position to take. It also has the difficulty that, doesn’t his lawyer believe him?

“Sometimes people do convince themselves of the righteousness of their own case and delude themselves or overlook the bits where they really haven’t been totally truthful. We lie in order to protect ourselves. When somebody lies they tend think of it as being quite non-important or trivial. But behind all the reasons for why the person lies there is that necessity of just protecting the image you have of yourself.”

She added: “He seems to have been a man who wants to be noticed and for other people to admire him – not because he is a hard-working politician but because he has this flamboyant quality that people are supposed to love.”

Dr Rowe concluded: “When you lie to yourself, you end up lying to other people. It is part of the consequences of your lies. If you lie to yourself regularly, it becomes such a habit that you lose track of what is true and false. You can very easily convince yourself that what you said was true. You get into a terrible tangle … he would have found himself in a situation where his idea about himself and other people’s idea about him were in danger of being rubbished.

“He started to perhaps just tell little lies, just omit certain things. It is that basic need to protect other people’s image of us and our image of ourselves and to protect ourselves from being shamed.

“That is the idea of public exposure. You can sometimes live with guilt, but living with that feeling of shame is very difficult.”