I was unable to be at court today, however regular commentator Whatsy had been kind enough to give us this report of Today's proceedings.
Mr Sheridan began by asking Mr Bird if he had discussed the case or his evidence over the weekend, to which Mr Bird replied No.
Monday, 15th November 2010
After comments from Lord Bracadale to the court that due to a medical appointment for Mr Sheridan, the court would rise for the day at lunchtime and they would make an effort to continue through to lunch without a break, Tommy Sheridan resumed his cross-examination of Crown Witness Robert (Bob) Bird, Scottish Editor of the News of the World (NotW)
Mr Sheridan began by asking Mr Bird if he had discussed the case or his evidence over the weekend, to which Mr Bird replied No.
Mr Sheridan asked whether, in light of dramatic new evidence that was revealed over the weekend in the press of a new file from Metropolitan Police pertaining to News of the World phone tapping activities, would Mr Bird like to change his evidence. Mr Bird replied no, and that he didn't know what evidence Mr Sheridan meant. Mr Sheridan specified that Mr Bird may want to change his evidence regarding use of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in the Sheridan case. Mr Bird declined to do so.
Mr Sheridan described new evidence that showed Douglas Wight, former Scottish NotW News Desk editor and current national NotW Features Editor had used Stephen Whittamore seventy times, not the ten times, for legal enquiries, that Mr Bird had previously stated. Mr Bird replied that he had only seen ten records of payment to Mr Whittamore on the system. Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Bird if he was aware that Whittamore had been convicted of illegally obtaining information from what Mr Bird might refer to as “force insiders”. Mr Bird replied that he had already discussed Whittamore's past convictions on Friday.
Mr Sheridan asked whether “legal enquiries” of the sort undertaken by private investigators hired by NotW was a cover for illegal activities. Mr Bird replied that, as stated on Friday, NotW had made much greater use of private investigators like Stephen Whittamore ten years ago but had not realised at the time that they used illegal methods to get information.
Mr Sheridan put it to Mr Bird that he was at the heart of Wapping culture, was part of the illegal culture of phone tapping there, and was a News International “hack” to whom accuracy and truth were unimportant if it got in the way of a story. Mr Bird denied this, stating he did not believe phone tapping was part of Wapping culture and was certainly not practised in Scotland.
Mr Sheridan asked the Mr Bird when he first met Crown Witness Anvar Khan (You can find a report on her previous testimony here), to which the witness replied it was probably some time in 2001. Mr Sheridan then asked if Mr Bird thought Ms Khan a sane and honest person, to which Mr Bird said he did. The witness then stated that he tried to convince Ms Khan to do a "Kiss & Tell" story on Tommy Sheridan , but she would not . Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Bird if he considered Fiona McGuire to be a sane and honest person, to which Mr Bird responded that he thought her to be honest.
Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that David Leslie (NotW journalist) had been the first person Fiona McGuire contacted at the News of the World and had thought her story “had more holes than a string vest and sent her packing”. Mr Bird replied that this was not the case.
Mr Sheridan asked if the Fiona McGuire story was sane and honest, to which the Advocate Depute objected that, not for the first time, the witness was being asked to comment on someone's honesty. Lord Bracadale directed Mr Sheridan to focus his questions on particular evidence. Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that the Fiona McGuire story was untrue, to which Mr Bird replied that “we thought it to be substantially true”.
A discussion followed regarding Mr Bird's contact and impression of Ms McGuire. Mr Sheridan put it to the witness, regarding Ms McGuire, that because he had not met this person he could not form an opinion of her. Mr Bird stated he had not met Ms McGuire. Mr Sheridan asked how the witness had formed an opinion on her, to which Mr Bird replied “I didn't form an opinion”. Mr Sheridan commented “that's what what I wanted you to say – it would have been easier if you had said that first”.
Mr Sheridan asked Mr Bird if Anvar Khan had used co-operation with NotW legal team as part of contract negotiations. After some hesitancy, Mr Bird stated no, she had not, and that NotW had nothing to hide regarding payments. Mr Sheridan then asked why, if there was nothing to hide, the defence had to take NotW to court to get some evidence. Mr Bird replied some evidence was confidential, such as payment to Mr McNeilage. Mr Sheridan stated that NotW had been helpful to the police and Crown, with Mr Bird responding that they had indeed spoken to them.
Mr Sheridan stated that he had provided his phone records voluntarily for the 2006 defamation trial, and then asked Mr Bird what he had done with them, to which the witness answered that they had been given to the police with names of potential witnesses.
Mr Sheridan then asked the witness whether any offers or payment had been made to various individuals, including Susan Dobbie, Beverly Anthea Dixon, Nicholas Dixon and others. Mr Sheridan then asked specifically again regarding Beverly Dixon and her husband Nicholas whether they had been offered or paid money. Mr Bird denied this. Mr Sheridan then asked if he would be surprised if Beverley Anthea Dixon claims to have made a deal with the NotW, to which Mr Bird agreed he would, and had no knowledge of any such deal.
Mr Sheridan again asked the witness if he wished now to take this opportunity to change his evidence and correct any lies or mistakes. The witness declined to do so.
Mr Sheridan suggested to the witness that he attempt to persuade Anvar Khan to make a phone call to Mr Sheridan to record him making admissions of visiting a swingers' club. Mr Bird agreed this was quite possible. Mr Sheridan asked why Ms Khan had not made the phone call for “easy money”, and Mr Bird stated that Ms Khan saw herself as a serious journalist at the time and didn't want to do a kiss and tell story where she would end up semi-naked on the front cover.
Mr Sheridan then displayed e-mail evidence where Mr Bird suggested to Ms Khan that she could “double your dosh” by making a phone call to Mr Sheridan and recording him admit to visiting the swingers' club. It was put to Mr Bird that this amounted to “devious entrapment”, to which he replied that he called it “getting evidence”. Mr Sheridan suggested that Ms Khan's refusal to make the phone call might make the witness think that the story was untrue, to which Mr Bird disagreed. Some further discussion on this e-mail followed, including portions where Ms Khan wrote that she was not interested in making the call for lots of reasons, and was “not sure he'd bite anyway”, and comment from Mr Bird that two people saying the same thing would look better in court.
Mr Sheridan drew attention to a comment in the e-mail where Mr Bird referred to another woman “Mr T” had been involved with, but that she was “totally barking” and put it to the witness that this referred to Fiona McGuire and reminded the witness of his earlier comments that he had not formed an opinion of her, having not met her. Mr Bird replied his “totally barking” opinion of her was based on her contacting other newspapers to sell her story when she had already signed a contract with NotW. Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that Ms McGuire was also reluctant to record a phone call with the defendant because no such sexual relationship had occurred, and Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that Ms Khan made no visit to a swingers' club with the defendant and no sexual relations occurred after 1993, to which Mr Bird replied “You know that's a joke”.
Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that he knew the Fiona McGuire story was false, to which Mr Bird again stated he believed it to be substantially true, and that Ms McGuire was reluctant to do a kiss & tell story, for the same reasons that Ms Khan had been reluctant to do so. Mr Sheridan asked Mr Bird to describe the story that eventually appeared, and Mr Bird described the front page article accompanied with a picture of a semi naked Ms McGuire. Mr Sheridan pointed out this was exactly the story Ms Khan, and by Mr Bird's own comparison, Ms McGuire had wanted to avoid, and Mr Bird commented that he had perhaps not chosen the best example. Mr Bird then stated that “it wasn't until we knew what sort of person you were that we printed the Fiona McGuire story”.
Mr Sheridan asked the witness whether the affidavit he had got Ms Khan to sign had been the result of pressure from the London office. Mr Bird stated the affidavit had been as a result of a letter Mr Sheridan had sent to NotW threatening to sue. Mr Sheridan stated that according to previous testimony by Ms Khan, she had not wanted to sign it as any legal action brought by Mr Sheridan had nothing to do with her, and Mr Bird responded that this was because at that point she had not named Mr Sheridan in the MSP Swingers' Club story, and that the story was only linked to Mr Sheridan once the defendant went on TV and made admissions of past sexual indiscretions with named individuals including Ms Khan.
Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that Ms Khan was prepared to lie for the sake of her £28,000 contract with NotW and editorship of a magazine, which Mr Bird denied and stated that he remembered the magazine editorship role, but it was a one-off.
Mr Sheridan proposed that Mr Bird had attempted to help keep witness statements consistent during the 2006 trial, but it had been as “easy as herding cats”. In particular, Mr Sheridan suggested that Mr Bird primed Ms Trolle to stick to the originally proposed 2001 date for the visit to the swingers' club, but that Ms Khan and Ms Trolle's evidence on this date changed and still remained inconsistent. Mr Bird denied ever speaking to Katrine Trolle, to which Mr Sheridan replied “But your lawyers did.”
Responding to questions of the veracity of the story, Mr Bird stated that the Fiona McGuire story fitted a pattern of behaviour, established by information supplied by Duncan Rowan and news that Mr Sheridan had been dumped by his party due to sexual misdemeanors, and that only once this information came to light did the NotW published the story had been in their possession for six months.
Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that his anti-trade union organisation was to spare no expense to get Sheridan at any cost – the witness denied this.
Mr Sheridan asked the witness how much money Andy Coulson (Editor of NotW in London, and Mr Bird's immediate boss)was prepared to pay to destroy him. Mr Bird replied he could not recall any conversation like that.
Mr Sheridan asked whether the Sheridan story went to the very top of News International, to which Mr Bird replied he didn't know and that Andy Coulson was the most senior person with whom he ever discussed it.
Several documents of evidence were then presented to the witness.
One contained a comment from Anvar Khan to Mr Bird on 15th June 2006, shortly before the 2006 trial, where she stated she had not had BB's contract offer in writing, but she was prepared to rethink her position regarding talking to the NotW QC.
Another was a letter from Mr Bird to Ms Khan on 20th June 2006 with a new contract offer, followed by an e-mail from Ms Khan to Mr Bird on 21st June 2006 acknowledging receipt of the contract offer and asking for additions to the contract, including four weeks paid holidays, a “kill fee” for an unpublished Michael York story and editorship with suitable payment, of any magazine that was possible, and a suggestion she was prepared to change her position and speak to the NotW QC.
Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that Ms Khan was using co-operation with NotW QC's as leverage during the contract negotiations and asked the witness “Does every negotiation end with 'if I get what I want I'll speak to your QC'?”
Mr Bird replied that in this negotiation there was a little extra spice.
The cross-examination moved on to retrieval of e-mail evidence, with Mr Bird stating there was a six month black hole in the NotW e-mail archive, which was stored with a company in India, and that these e-mails had not been able to be retrieved.
Mr Sheridan stated that many e-mails had only been retrieved from NotW after legal proceedings at a commission hearing, then produced and e-mail from Craig Jackson, then NotW News Editor (who had replaced Douglas Wight), from 28th September 2006, to Tom Owen of Owl Investigations, a US company given work analysing the veracity of the tape made by George McNeilage purporting to show Mr Sheridan confessing to visiting a swingers' club. In the letter, Mr Jackson gave Mr Owen some background to the tape and the Tommy Sheridan defamation trial, then stated that he “guesstimated” NotW had spent $2 million on this case so far, that the story had gone right to the top of News International, that the company was Murdoch-owned and was one of the biggest media outlets in Europe, and that his inclusion, he was sure, would have a huge knock-on effect to your business.
Mr Bird stated that what Mr Jackson was expressing was not based on any access to the financial figures of the case. Of which Mr jackson wouldn't have a clue, and that the e-mail was intended to get someone in a forensics lab to “get their finger out”, and that he wouldn't take this e-mail as gospel.
When asked about how much the case had cost NotW, Mr Bird replied that he didn't know, but that after the libel trial verdict there had been no end of people disgusted with the verdict who rang up NotW “telling us what you were really like” with names of no end of women who had affairs with you.
Referring back to the e-mail from Mr Jackson to Owl Investigations, Mr Sheridan asked if the comment “our editors are waiting to hear from you” referred to Andy Coulson, to which Mr Bird was not sure. Mr Sheridan then put it to the witness that he was embarrassed by the court case verdict after the muck he threw at the defendant, to which Mr Bird replied that it had been Mr Sheridan who had thrown the muck, to which Mr Sheridan asked whether he had ever accused Mr Bird of having an affair. Mr Bird responded by saying that in 99% of cases, when NotW got something wrong in the past they held their hands up and settled financially, but in this case they went to court because they thought they were in the right.
Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Bird if, when discussing legal matters of the case with Tom Crone, the NotW head of legal, Mr Coulson might not be aware, to which Mr Bird replied he spoke to Mr Crone but didn't know if Mr Coulson was informed.
Mr Sheridan then turned to Mr Bird's police statement of 10th October 2006, where he described leaving Mr McNeilage's house after seeing the video tape for the first time and phoning Mr Coulson to agree “tactics and price”. Mr Sheridan asked what price Mr Bird had agreed with Mr Coulson, and Mr Bird replied that the statement was not exactly timed and was more a summary of what he talked to Mr Coulson about over more than one call, although he definitely spoke to Mr Coulson the same day that he first saw the tape. Mr Bird stated that although he did not know the overall cost of the Sheridan trial to NotW, the legal bills were immense, but that they came out of a different legal budget. Mr Sheridan asked what the NotW budget was, and Mr Bird replied that for NotW Scotland it was £2m annually, and that they had spent over £100,000 on the Sheridan case from 2004 to 2006.
Mr Sheridan then displayed an e-mail from Kenneth Lang of Mellicks lawyers, acting on behalf of NotW, sent to Mr Bird and copying Justin Walford, from 11th August 2006, containing a Minute Of Agreement that showed a fee of £250,000 for the McNeilage Tape. Mr Bird stated that there were loads of drafts before the final agreement. Mr Sheridan then stated that it was apparent that Wapping, through Mr Coulson and Mr Crone, had taken over and that Glasgow had been dropped from negotiations. Mr Bird replied he didn't think it was particularly significant.
A further e-mail from Kenneth Lang to Robert Vaughn, solicitor acting for George McNeilage, was produced, asking that Mr Coulson and Mr Crone come up to view the tape, as Mr Coulson was the man who signs the cheques. Mr Sheridan asked the witness “You were sidelined in negotiations, weren't you?” to which Mr Bird replied “If that's so, I didn't mind a bit”.
At this point, due to Mr Sheridan's medical appointment, the court rose for the day.