As court resumed this morningm Lord Bracadale, the presiding judge in the trial of Her Majesties Advocate Vs Thomas Sheridan, warned those attending not to engage in any "inappropriate behavior," Tommy Sheridan rose from his seat in the dock of court number four to begin his plea in mitigation.
Mr Sheridan began by thanking the court workers, including the canteen staff, for their assistance in what had been a "long trial." Mr Sheridan then told the court that he "recognised the jury had carried out a difficult task" in a case that was "long and arduous." He then stated that the court would be aware "by fair means or foul" that he had been convicted by "the narrowest of majorities." adding that while he agreed that perjury was a serious crime that "strikes at the heart of justice" it was important to look at the context in which he brought his case against the News of the World.
Mr Sheridan asked Lord Bracadale to recall that he had originally taken action against the News of the World over an article they had published on the 14th November 2004 that alleged he had a four year affair with Fiona McGuire, an article Mr Sheridan described as "grossly offensive and and defamatory" Mr Sheridan claimed that these allegations had been printed "without a shred of foundation" and were a "paid for packet of hurtful lies." Mr Sheridan then asked Lord Bracadale to ignore the "hype and publicity before, during and after the trial" and to "pause and reflect" on the circumstances of that case. Mr Sheridan stated to the court that "No-one had been killed" due to his offence and that "no-one had been falsely imprisoned"
Mr Sheridan then asked the court to consider that there was no precedent in Scotland for a perjury trial arising from a civil case so therfore he would draw on the precedents of cases heard in English courts. He pointed out that Jonathan Aitken received a sentence of only 18 months for suborning a witness (his daughter) in a libel case and that Jeffrey Archer had been given a prison term of four years for a series of offences that were far more serious than those he had been convicted of committing. Mr Sheridan also asked Lord Bracadale to take into account the case of Regina Vs Fieldman were a 55 year old man of "previous good character" had been sentenced to nine months for three counts of perjury in an English Crown Court, adding that in his case the "fact of imprisonment" may be seen as "punishment enough" irrespective of the length of that imprisonment.
Mr Sheridan then told the court that while he accepted that a custodial sentence in this case was "inevitable" the length of the sentence he should be given was a matter of "serious debate." Mr Sheridan then made reference to what he called the "armchair lawyers" and the "vindictive media" who had been calling for a sentence of "four to five years." These articles Mr Sheridan described as being produced by "journalists with agendas" who had, in his words, "already announced my fate. Mr Sheridan stated to the court that his lawyer Aamer Anwar had assured him that Lord Bracadale would be "above such speculation."
Tommy Sheridan then asked the court to consider that his "his history" showed that financial gain had "never been a motivation for me" pointing out that fact that while he was a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) he had donated half of his salary to the Scottish Socialist Party. Mr Sheridan then went on to cite statistics from the English Crown Courts which showed that between 1991 and 2000, 830 people had been convicted of perjury of which 437 had received prison sentences. Mr Sheridan then stated these sentences were:
- 1 person was sentenced to between 5 to 7 years
- 3 people were sentenced to between 4 to 5 years
- 3 people were sentenced to between 3-5 years
- 11 people were sentenced to between 3-4 years
Mr Sheridan then asked Lord Bracadale to consider a particular case, again in England, where 30 defendents had been convicted of perjury in connection with, what Mr Sheridan described as "Trial fixing" yet had only received 18 month sentences. Mr Sheridan then brought into consideration the case of two defendents , who were convicted of committing perjury in a trial connected with the "Ice Cream Wars." A perjury that had led, in Mr Sheridan's words, to an innocent man "Serving 12 years of a life sentence." In these cases, Mr Sheridan told the court, those convicted served only 6 and 5 years and invited the court to take into account that while he "inevitably faced a custodial sentence" a sentence of more that four years would be "inconsistent with precendence.
Part Two to follow.
Part Two to follow.