As mentioned below, today the court heard from the first witness for the defence Hugh Kerr. Mr Kerr told the court he had been involved in politics for may years, including a term as Labour party member of the European parliament from 1991 to 1999. Mr Kerr added that he had been expelled from the Labour Party in 1998 as 'Tony Blair didn't like socialists" and that he had joined the Scottish Socialist Party in 1999 and was one of the first two co-chairs of the party.
Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Kerr about his role as press officer for Mr Sheridan at the first session of the Scottish parliament (1999 to 2003) Mr Kerr replied by telling the court about the achievements of that first term, including Mr Sheridan's successful private members bill to abolish warrant sales. Mr Sheridan then asked the witness about the "dynamic of the SSP" and how that had changed after the 2003 election with the arrival of another five SSP members to the parliament.
Mr Kerr told the court that before 2003 that in general "harmony" had existed in the party, although there had been signs of division during the 50/50 debate (a successful proposal that half of all candidates in elections should be women) he claimed that some of the new intake of MSP's were "more interested in power and money" than maintaining party unity and that this conflict had also spread to the staff of the party. When asked he named Frances Curran, Rosie Kane and Carolyn Leckie for this state of affairs and added that he had become isolated as he had been seen as too close to Mr Sheridan. The witness further stated that he had been "sent to Coventry" Mr Sheridan then asked the witness what the reason for this division inside the party was. Mr Kerr replied that people were "envious" of Mr Sheridan's public profile and "jealous" of him. He added that Alan McCombes had told him that "Sheridan would be nothing without me" and there was a feeling amongst some other MSPs that Mr Sheridan was "getting too big for his boots" and had to be "taken down a peg or two." Mr Kerr agreed that he had been involved in other political disputes but that the SSP was "remarkable for the level of intensity and hostilty." with "a lot of hate, visceral hate."
Mr Kerr then told the court that he had found this atmosphere intolerable so had resigned his position and moved to Denmark in November 2004. Mr Sheridan then asked the witness if he had "formed an impression of events that occurred after he left, at this point Alex Prentice QC, the Advocate Depute, objected that this would be hearsay, Lord Bracadale agreed and the question was disallowed.
Mr Sheridan then moved on to events after Mr Kerr's return to Scotland in 2006. Mr Kerr informed the court he had returned to help Mr Sheridan in Parliament, and in that capacity was present in 2007 when a listening device was found in Mr Sheridan's car. Mr Kerr told the court that they "had received evidence from someone at the News of the World" that Mr Sheridan was being monitored and had called Lothian and Borders police to "get the car checked" The witness went on to tell the court that when they arrived with the car to meet the police, around forty minutes later" a press photographer was already in attendance, the news having been "leaked" to the media. Mr Kerr confirmed that the police had found a "bug" in Mr Sheridan's vehicle, going on to tell the court that the police had not found who was responsible for this.
Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Kerr about a number of Freedom of Information requests he had made to Lothian and Borders police about their investigation into alleged perjury by Mr and Mrs Sheridan at their 2006 defamation case against the News of the World. Documents were shown to the court, from the Force support unit of L&B police which gave the number of police hours consumed by the case, as of 15/02/08 as around, 40,000 giving a cost in wages and salaries of approximately £1 million and additional expenses (overtime, transport etc) as £153,743.91. A further document was then presented giving figures for 24/09/08 giving a total cost in police hours as 54,216 with a salary/wages cost £865,060.72 and additional costs of £235,210.81.
Finally Mr Sheridan asked the witness if he was telling the truth, to which Mr Kerr replied he was. Mr Sheridan then asked the witness if he had a "Criminal record" to which Mr Kerr replied "In September 1961 I was in a sit-down in Trafalgar Square with Bertrand Russell" for which he was later fined £5. Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Kerr if anyone was paying him for his testimony, to which the witness replied "unfortunately not. I give is freely and on a voluntary basis." With that Mr Sheridan ended his evidence in chief and returned to the dock.
The Advocate Depute then rose to cross-examine Mr Kerr. Mr Prentice opened by asking the witness if he agreed that perjury was a "serious crime' which he did and if "perjury is committed justice suffers" a statement to which Mr Kerr also agreed. The Advocate Depute then asked of Mr Kerr was committed to freedom of information and that witnesses should "co-operate" with both sides in a trial to ensure a correct verdict was arrived at. Again the witness agreed. Mr Prentice then asked if this was the witnesses position why had he not been prepared to provide a statement to the police when asked on the 18th November this year. Mr Kerr responded that a police officer had called him and asked him to make a statement and had also informed him that he was not obliged to do so. Mr Kerr stated that as he was due to give evidence in the case he had decided to decline to do so. Mr Prentice then ended his cross-examination and after a brief re-examination from Mr Sheridan Mr Kerr was allowed to step down from the witness box.