The editor of the Scottish News of the World yesterday denied being part of an “illegal culture of tapping” after Tommy Sheridan suggested his phone was bugged.
Bob Bird, 54, told Sheridan none of his staff had instructed private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to tap his phone.
- November 24, 2021
- November 15, 2021
- September 29, 2021
He was giving evidence for the second day in Sheridan’s perjury trial at the High Court in Glasgow.
Sheridan and his wife Gail, both 46, are accused of lying under oath during Sheridan’s successful 2006 defamation action against the News of the World. They deny the allegations.
Cross-examining the editor, Sheridan said: “Ten years ago you were at the heart of Wapping.”
He went on: “You were part of the illegal culture of phone tapping that has been widely criticised.”
Bird replied: “No I was not.”
Sheridan asked: “You are now the editor of the Scottish News of the World. Is it your position that the illegal culture of Wapping is not practised here in Scotland?”
Bird said: “I don’t think there was any such culture in Wapping and it’s certainly not conducted in Scotland.”
Sheridan, a former contestant on Celebrity Big Brother, won £200,000 in damages after the newspaper printed allegations about his private life.
The indictment against the Sheridans contains three charges in total, two of which are broken down into subsections.
It is alleged he made false statements as a witness in the defamation action of July 21 2006.
He also denies a charge of attempting to persuade a witness to commit perjury shortly before the 23-day trial got under way.
Mrs Sheridan denies making false statements on July 31 2006, after being sworn in as a witness in the civil jury trial.
Sheridan asked Bird: “Glenn Mulcaire may have been illegally involved in tapping my phone. Are you saying that none of your staff instructed Mr Mulcaire to carry out any such activity?” He replied: “No.”
Sheridan suggested the Scottish newspaper’s news editor, Douglas Wight, had used the services of another private investigator, Stephen Whittamore, 70 times.
Bird said he had only seen 10 invoices for the use of his services.
The court also heard the journalist Tommy Sheridan allegedly had an affair with was prepared to speak to the News of the World’s lawyer ahead of the libel trial if the paper improved her contract.
The jury was shown an email from Anvar Khan to Bird in which she asked for an 18-month contract, paid holidays and the editorship of a magazine.
It ended with the line: “As I thought we agreed at the meeting, if I’m happy with my new contract I’m prepared to rethink my position regarding talking to your QC.”
It was sent on June 21 2006, the month before the libel case.
Earlier, Bird said he did not think she had suggested cooperating with the legal team if she was given certain things.
After showing Bird the email, Sheridan asked: “Do you now accept that Anvar Khan was trying to use contract negotiations as leverage in her contribution or otherwise in your court case?”
He answered: “It looks like she was trying to put a bit of pressure on me.
“It ended with my giving her a new contract, if you look at that a lot of the things she had asked for we didn’t give her.
“Your suggestion that we were buying her, I don’t think adds up really.”
Sheridan said they were “negotiations on behalf of cooperation” but Bird said: “I would not describe it quite like that.”
He said he did not know what Khan was going to say in court in the libel trial until she stepped into the witness box.
He also told the court Khan did not want to write about her alleged affair with Sheridan in the newspaper because she saw herself as a “serious journalist”.
Bird said: “She didn’t want to be a News of the World kiss-and-tell girl and be photographed in her underwear, she refused that then in 2001 and she refused that when we asked her to get you on the phone admitting to the affair.”
The court also heard that the News of the World spent two million US dollars (£1.24m) on the libel case.
Sheridan showed the jury an email from one of its journalists, Craig Jackson, to a member of staff at Owl Investigations in America, asking them to look at the video secretly recorded by George McNeilage in which a man identified as Sheridan allegedly confesses to claims about his private life.
In the email Jackson explained: “The libel trial went to court and we lost the case, in US dollars I would guesstimate this has cost us two million so far.”
He went on: “This story has gone right to the top of our organisation.”
Bird dismissed the figure as “a guesstimate, a pretty wild one” and said Jackson was probably trying to imbue the email with urgency to catch the attention of someone working at a very busy forensic lab.
He added: “I would not take it as gospel Mr Sheridan.”
However, he said that between 2004 and the end of 2006 more than £100,000 of the News of the World’s Scottish budget was spent on the case, out of an annual budget of about £2 million.
Sheridan also questioned Bird about the story the paper ran about Fiona McGuire, the woman alleged to have had an affair with the former politician.
He said that David Leslie, the News of the World crime reporter, had said he “thought her story had more holes than a string vest” and sent her packing.
But Bird said they believed her story to be “substantially true”.
The trial before Lord Bracadale was adjourned until later today.