Wednesday, October 27, 2010
The first witness called by the Crown today was Frances Curran, a founding member of the Scottish Socialist Party and a member of the Scottish Parliament from 2003 until 2007. After establishing this Mr Alex Prentice QC for the prosecution asked Ms Curran when she had first heard about the News of the World's allegations about an MSP attending a "sex club" in Manchester. The witness told the court that she had been in the dining hall of the Scottish parliament on the 31st October and that "Rosie [Rosie Kane MSP] had been joking about it and taking bets."
Ms Curran told the court that she had then received a telephone call from Alan McCombes who had informed her that the unnamed MSP in the story had been Tommy Sheridan. This was followed by a meeting at Mr McCombes flat later in the week attended by a number of SSP executive members and MSP's which Ms Curran described as an informal meeting at which she expected Mr Sheridan to attend. As he did not a decision was taken that a formal executive meeting was required and this was arranged for the 9th November.
Mr Prentice then asked the witness about that meeting. Ms Curran stated that Alan McCombes had spoken first and told the meeting that the unnamed MSP was Mr Sheridan, he then spoke next and admitted the allegations saying he had visited the Cupids club in Manchester on two occasions but there was no proof and he intended to fight the allegations in court. The witness said she could not believe Mr Sheridan could be "so stupid as to visit a sex club with a newspaper columnist (Anvar Khan)" and that he would be "crazy" to take on a court case.
Ms Curran then told the court that she and Colin Fox MSP had met Mr Sheridan the next day in Edinburgh and asked him if he was still planning on taking court action about the NotW story. When he replied that he did she said "then we want your resignation" She described Mr Sheridan as responding "for f*cks sake Frances I expected more loyalty from you" and asked how they knew it was him? Ms Curran stated that she said "because you told us last night" and when Mr Sheridan said there was not a "scintilla of proof" she had pointed out that "this was the 21st century with "CCTV and mobile phones" and evidence was bound to come out. Finally Ms Curran testified that she had told the defendant she would not lie for him and "don't drag me into court" to which she added "and here I am."
Ms Curran was then shown the "Barbara Scott" minute of the 9 November meeting which she stated was a accurate account of that meeting. She was then shown the alternative minute (the "Mystery Minute" as Maggie Scott QC called it) which she said she had only seen once before, when the police presented it to her during a interview. Mr Prentice then asked Ms Curran about the affidavit given to the Sunday Herald newspaper and if she had been aware before the trial that it was from Alan McCombes. She told the court that Mr McCombes had informed her of this "just before the trial" and until then she had believed Duncan Rowan to be the affidavit's source and that she was "surprised" it was Mr McCombes. Finally the witness was asked if she had received any money from the News of the World, which she denied and that she was still "raging" to be dragged into court. With that the Crown finished their initial examination and the court adjourned for a short break.
After the morning break the court resumed with the defence's cross examination of Frances Curran. Mr Sheridan opened by asking Ms Curran if she had discussed her evidence with anyone else, the witness responded by saying "call me Frances we've known each other for years Tommy." at this point the judge, lord Bracadale intervened stating he wished the court to use formal terms. Responding to the question Ms Curran replied she had not discussed her evidence to which Mr Sheridan pointed to her previous testimony that she had spoken to Alan McCombes to which she responded that it was a brief conversation. Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that this was potentially a serious offence to which she reponded "you're the lawyer Tommy." At this point the judge again intervened and asked Ms Curran to answer questions and not make additional comments.
There was then a discussion about the meeting held in Alan McCombes flat which Ms Curran had stated that she expected Mr Sheridan to attend. He asked how the witness knew he had been invited to the meeting to which she responded that she was told he had been but admitted she had no first hand knowledge of an invitation. Mr Sheridan then asked about Rosie Kane "taking bets" in the parliament and asked the witness of they had been having a "good laugh" and if they thought the situation was "funny." Ms Curran said that they had, but only because they had not known who the MSP was.
After some questions about Mr Sheridan's and Ms Curran's "shared political background in the Militant" and if the Militant was a "semi-clandestine" organisation, Mr Sheridan asked about Ms Curran's membership of the "United Left" group within the SSP. At that point Ms Curran said she could not answer questions on this subject until she had legal advice as it was part of a "live court case" a defamation action against the Daily Record. With that the judge asked the jury to leave while legal arguments on this were heard.
(for those interested an article on Ms Curran's action and a link to the judgement can be found Here )
On the jury's return the judge instructed the witness to continue to answer questions unless he directed her not to. Ms Curran said that she had only ever been to one United Left meeting and although she was "proud" of signing it's founding statement that was not the same as joining the organisation. Mr Sheridan read out extracts from an article from Red Pepper magazine written by Roz Patterson, Ms Curran said she could not comment on an article she had never seen and that the defence should ask Ms Patterson about it. Mr Sheridan then had the witness read her testimony to a discovery hearing in Edinburgh before the 2006 trial and pointed out that she had stated then she had returned the minutes of the "9/11" meeting to Mr McCombes when she had testified today she had returned them to Mr Green after reading them. The witness put this down to confusion between where the minutes where then and where they were in 2006.
Mr Sheridan then accused the witness of "lying for a political purpose" which she called a "joke" She then spoke directly to the jury saying "poor jury by the way having to listen to this" and again the judge intervened asking her to refrain from making comments to the jury. Mr Sheridan again accused her of not telling the truth to which she responded "Is that your whole defence, Liar, liar pants on fire?" but admitted to have gotten "confused" at certain points in her evidence. As Mr Sheridan ended his cross-examination and began to return to the dock Ms Curran continued to speak saying to Mr Sheridan "your biggest crime is not the one you are in court for, your biggest crime was that you sold out the party and sold out the people you voted for, you are a disgrace."
The Advocate Depute declined to re-examine the witness and it being 1pm the court rose for lunch.
Posted by James Doleman at 6:25 PM