BY: DAVID STRINGER
LONDON – It was a case that gripped Scotland — a firebrand leftist lawmaker who claimed he spent nights at home playing Scrabble versus a tabloid that claimed he took part in wild parties at a sex club.
The first jury ruled for Scrabble. The next one decided that he had lied.
So Tommy Sheridan, a former member of Scotland’s Parliament, has been told by a judge to get ready for jail when he returns to a Glasgow court next month for sentencing.
Sheridan mounted a robust defense of his character in a widely followed libel trial against Britain’s feisty News of The World newspaper. Over weeks of riveting testimony, the 46-year-old Sheridan persuaded a jury that he had been wronged by the newspaper, accusing reporters of putting his wife and then-unborn child at risk as a result of the stress.
In one notable exchange that helped Sheridan win damages worth 200,000 pounds ($310,000), the lawmaker offered to take off his shirt in court to show he was “a hairy ape” and disprove the testimony of an alleged mistress who had suggested he was smooth-chested.
Sheridan’s story sounded almost too good to be true — and a jury in a second trial ruled Thursday that it was, convicting him of perjury.
The ruling is the latest twist in a political career lived out in tabloid headlines.
Sheridan came to prominence protesting the unpopular Poll Tax introduced by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as part of the new Scottish Socialist Party. He broke away in 2006 to form his own Solidarity party and lost his seat in 2007. Since then he has made failed attempts to win a seat at the European Parliament and Britain’s House of Commons.
From 2004 on, Sheridan became the target of Britain’s tabloids, facing a series of disparaging stories about his sex life.
The News of the World claimed he was a “spanking swinger” who had slept with a prostitute and attended a swingers’ sex club in Manchester, northern England.
A defiant Sheridan sued the newspaper in 2006, accusing his detractors of either printing salacious gossip to drive newspaper sales or colluding with Britain’s intelligence agencies in a plot to undermine socialist politicians.
A talented, self-confident orator, he defending himself after firing his lawyer and mocked the paper’s allegations as outrageously fanciful.
“From four-in-a-bed to five-in-a-bed. From five-in-a-bed to sex clubs. From sex clubs to champagne. From champagne to cocaine. From cocaine to orgies,” he told the court.
However, nearly a year after his courtroom victory, police arrested and charged Sheridan with perjury in connection with the hearing.
Rather than shy away from publicity, Sheridan instead appeared in the 2009 edition of Britain’s “Celebrity Big Brother” reality television show, performing an ice-skating routine with LaToya Jackson and songs with rap artist Coolio.
Sheridan’s wife Gail — who stridently defended her husband in his original libel case — was also charged with perjury. Charges against the sharply dressed former flight attendant, who married Sheridan in 2000, were dropped last week.
During a 12-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow, prosecutors produced 16 witnesses who testified — in sometimes lurid detail — that Sheridan had visited a swingers club called Cupid’s and had attempted to mislead his political party and the original libel jury about his lifestyle.
“J.K. Rowling could not make up the kind of stories you have,” Alan McCombes, the Scottish Socialist Party’s former press officer, said, referring to the Scottish author of the “Harry Potter” series.
Following the jury’s verdict, Judge Alistair Bracadale told Sheridan, who made a marathon five-hour closing speech in the case, he was almost certain to be jailed. The News of the World is also expected to seek to win back the damages it was originally ordered to hand over to Sheridan.
Sheridan’s former political party said the verdict had sealed his humbling fall.
“By his actions over six years, Tommy Sheridan has disgraced himself and negated his political contribution to the socialist cause over 25 years,” the Scottish Socialist Party said. “History will now record he did more harm to the socialist cause in Scotland than any good he ever did it.”
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