The jury deliberated, Tommy and his family waited, their lives on hold. And after what was clearly a stressful and difficult period, they found him guilty. What would I have done if I had been a juror?
Henry Fonda: (juror no. 8 in 12 Angry Men 1957)
“It's always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don't really know what the truth is. I don't suppose anybody will ever really know. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent, but we're just gambling on probabilities - we may be wrong. We may be trying to let a guilty man go free, I don't know. Nobody really can. But we have a reasonable doubt, and that's something that's very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it's SURE. We nine can't understand how you three are still so sure. Maybe you can tell us. “
That still says something fundamental to me about the jury system, whether in America or Scotland.
A barrister (it was in an English courtroom) once asked me what I thought was the commonest criminal offence. I hazarded a guess at common assault, but he shook his head. “It’s probably perjury – people lie their heads off in court every day.”
Perjury is a very serious offence – it strikes at the very heart of equity and justice, and it must be treated with severity when proven. Since both versions of the sordid Sheridan saga can’t be true, somebody is guilty of perjury, perhaps more than one person. So my instincts tell me that, if proven, the penalty must be exacted.
But deeper instincts tell me that the News of the World and the Murdoch organisation, News International set out to destroy a good man by making allegations about his private life. I don’t care a jot whether those allegations are true of false – I have nothing but contempt for the newspaper that made them, and for the media empire of which it is a part.
Tommy Sheridan, in my view, demonstrated a lack of judgement in some of his actions. So did Andy Coulson, the former editor of the NotW, over the telephone tapping scandal. He paid the price of resigning from one well-paid job and moving to another. He is now a trusted adviser to Cameron and the unspeakable ConLib Coalition, who now, with the effective political demise of Vince Cable, seem likely to nod through the BSkyB deal for their old pal, aided by Jeremy – a right old Tory Hunt.
Enormous power, influence and the full weight of the law have been deployed against a Glasgow politician who, if he was guilty of anything, was guilty of trying to help ordinary working Scots and the vulnerable in Scottish society through the medium of a faction-ridden, tiny political party, now irretrievably split, when he could have utilised his charisma and burning conviction to better effect in a mainstream party.
Had I been a juror in Glasgow on Wednesday and Thursday, I would have asked myself two questions – and the jury members must have addressed them -
1. Would justice and equity be served by allowing a pernicious, right-wind media organisation with huge resources, and questionable influence over the government of the UK, to destroy an ordinary Scot who had the temerity – and the nerve – to challenge them?
2. Was there a reasonable doubt? And I would remember Juror No. 8’s words in 12 Angry Men – “But we have a reasonable doubt, and that's something that's very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it's SURE.”
The Sheridan jury, by a majority, declared themselves sure. They saw and heard the full evidence at first hand – I did not. But I still think a great injustice has been done, not by the jury, but by the system – by the UK Establishment and by the News of the World, and to some extent by the Scottish public, who avidly consumed all the lurid details of the trial, but failed to look hard enough at the plight of someone who had worked tirelessly and fearlessly in their interests for many years.
I am not a socialist, and would never have described myself as one, although I was a Labour party supporter for most of my life. I certainly did not support the fringe socialism of the Scottish Socialist Party, but I recognised that something of the heart and soul of the old Labour Party survived within it. When it had a measure of success, I welcomed it, as part of the plurality of Scottish democracy. I recognised the inevitability of its destruction by the doctrinaire factionalism that is inherent is such parties, but I regret that it has torn itself apart over its most charismatic member, Tommy Sheridan. Sheridan must take the blame for some, perhaps most of that outcome, by his initial decision to fight the NotW, whatever else he may or may not have been guilty of.
But he did not deserve this, and neither did his loyal wife, Gail, nor his child, nor his loving and supportive family. I hope the Scottish people recognise that in some way they were complicit in the destruction of one of their own.
Only those whose supported this flawed, but in a certain way noble man throughout can hold their heads high.
I hope the sentence is tempered with mercy, and compassion for his family. Only thus can a tragedy be averted.