Friday, November 12, 2010
Bob Bird's Testimony
The next witness for the Crown on Friday morning was Robert (Bob) Bird, the Scottish editor of the News of the World (NotW) for the last 10 years. The Advocate Depute, Alex Prentice QC, began by asking Mr Bird about the relationship between the Scottish edition of the newspaper and the UK edition. Mr Bird told the court that the Scottish paper had a "fair degree of autonomy" and could "pick and choose" which London stories to run and produce their own content geared to the Scottish readership. Mr Bird was then shown three copies of the News of the World dated 31st October, 14 November and 21 November 2004, and asked if he edited those. The witness stated he had.
Mr Bird was then asked about Mr Sheridan's action for defamation in relation to these three editions of the NotW. A case which was held at the Court of Session in Edinburgh in 2006. Mr Bird confirmed he had testified in that trial and in addition had been in the gallery and listened to "the majority of the evidence." He also told the court that when Mr Sheridan had been successful in that case the NotW had appealed the verdict "almost immediately"
Mr Prentice then moved on to the issue of the "McNeilage tape" and how Mr Bird had come into possession of it. Mr Bird told the court he had received a telephone call around a week after the trial from someone who told him he "had proof Tommy Sheridan lied in court." He had arranged to meet this unknown caller at an address in Pollok (a housing estate in the South side of Glasgow) and went alone. He stated that he had then been redirected over a railway bridge to another address, which he later discovered was that of George McNeilage. On arrival in the house Mr Bird told the court he was shown a handwritten sign saying that he was not to say anything and remove his clothes, which he did in the bathroom. He then returned to the living room where the person there asked "Do you know who I am? I'm Tommy Sheridan's best man" Mr Bird told the court that "his blood had run cold" and he expected "Tommy Sheridan to burst in with a video camera" However this did not occur and, clad only in his underwear, he watched the "McNeilage tape."
Mr Prentice then asked the witness what had happened after he watched the video. Mr Bird told the court that Mr McNeilage had asked for £250,000 and he had told him that he would need to authenticate the tape and get authorisation to hand over such a large sum of money. Mr Prentice put it to the witness that it had been suggested in court that the NotW had been involved in producing the tape. Mr Bird said there was no truth whatsoever in that suggestion. Mr Bird then told the court he had arranged to open negotiations with Mr McNeilage's lawyer and had then left the house. The witness added that later that evening he had spoken to Andrew Coulson, then National editor of the NotW and they had discussed paying for the tape. Mr Bird testified that Mr Coulson's response was that £250,000 was "pricey."
Mr Bird then told the court that the final price agreed for the tape was £200,000, to be paid in two installments. The agreement also included the newspaper taking possession of the camera the tape was allegedly recorded on (which he identified in court) as well as the original micro cassette and various cables. The newspaper had also agreed to replace this camera which was the property of a local community centre.
Finally Mr Prentice asked Mr Bird if previous Crown witness Katrine Trolle had ever been offered money by the NotW for her story. The witness told the court that although he had testified in the 2006 civil case that Ms Trolle was never offered money, he had later discovered that in fact she had been offered a payment by one of his journalists, Andrea Vance. Mr Bird added that while an offer had been made Ms Trolle had not accepted it.
With that the Crown ended it's evidence in chief, and Mr Sheridan was free to begin his cross-examination, which we will cover in our next report.
Posted by James Doleman at 5:48 PM