Sheridan trial – Coulson charged with perjury

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By a Newsnet reporter

Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s former director of communications and former editor of the News of the World, was arrested and charged last night by police in Glasgow on allegations that he committed perjury when giving evidence at the trial of Tommy Sheridan. 

Mr Coulson had been detained by officers from Operation Rubicon, the Scottish police investigation into phone hacking, at his London home at 6.30 on Wednesday morning.  

The PM’s former spin doctor was then driven by police to Govan police station in Glasgow, the base for Operation Rubicon, where he was questioned by officers.  The Scottish inquiries are running separately from the major investigations by London police into newspaper malpractice.

Mr Coulson finally left the police station at around 9.30pm without making any comment.  Shortly afterwards, a spokesperson for Strathclyde police released a statement saying:

“A 44-year- old man has been arrested in connection with alleged perjury before the high court. A report will be submitted to the procurator fiscal.”

Mr Coulson has been charged under section 14 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 on suspicion of committing perjury before the high court in Glasgow when giving evidence as a witness during the December 2010 perjury trial of Tommy Sheridan, the former MSP.  

Mr Sheridan was being tried for perjury based on testimony he made during a previous civil case he had brought against the News of the World.  At the time Mr Coulson gave evidence, he was still employed by the Prime Minister’s office.  

Perjury can in theory result in a life sentence, but sentences of a couple of years are more typical, a spokesman for the Scottish government justice department said yesterday.

In his evidence to the high court in Glasgow in 2010, Mr Coulson repeatedly denied any knowledge of criminal activity when he was editor of the News of the World between 2003 and 2007, and denied that he knew of the phone hacking activities of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

Mr Sheridan, who was conducting his own defence, showed Mr Coulson evidence which suggested Mr Mulcaire may have targeted Mr Sheridan’s and his wife’s phones while being paid more than £100,000 a year by the New of the World.  Mr Coulson replied:

“I’m saying I had absolutely no knowledge of it.”

Mr Coulson resigned from his Downing St job a short time after giving evidence at the trial in the High Court in Glasgow as the phone hacking scandal intensified.   In July 2011 he was arrested by police officers from Scotland Yard on suspicion of conspiring to intercept voicemails and making corrupt payments to police officers.  The investigation into these matters is continuing and no charges have been brought against him.  Mr Coulson denies all the allegations.  

Mr Sheridan was convicted at his trial and sentenced to three years imprisonment.  He was recently released with restrictions after serving one year of his sentence.  

Speaking to reporters outside his home last night, Mr Sheridan said:  

“We were led to believe by Mr. Coulson and his acolytes at News International during my trial and the initial phone-hacking investigations that the problem was a rogue reporter.  Well, I think we all know now that there is no bad apple in the barrel.  What there is is a rotten orchard full of bad apples.”

He added:  “I firmly believe that today marks the first step in the journey towards the quashing of my conviction, which was unsafe and unsound.”

Mr Sheridan’s lawyer, Gordon Dangerfield, said he would now appeal the ex-MSP’s perjury conviction, saying:  “We have very strong grounds of appeal and will be lodging a full appeal in due course.”

He added:  “We believe that when the whole truth comes out, the public will be given an entirely new perspective on what the Tommy Sheridan trial was really about.  It is safe to say that many people will have their eyes opened for the first time.”

The arrest of Mr Coulson on charges of perjury raise new questions about the Prime Minister’s judgement in appointing the former newspaper editor to a sensitive position within the heart of Downing St.  Within the space of a few weeks, the Prime Minister has seen his former spin doctor, his media ally Rebekah Brooks, and his school friend Charlie Brooks (husband of Rebekah) all being charged with perjury or conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.  

During Mr Coulson’s recent appearance before the Levenson Inquiry, it was revealed that Mr Coulson was not given security clearance, and that the Prime Minister’s office did not ask the security services to vet him.  

Questions will now be asked whether Mr Cameron’s close personal friendships with central figures in the Murdoch empire, and his wish to secure the support of the powerful media mogul, led him to close his eyes to mounting evidence of a culture of wrongdoing within the organisation.

Mr Cameron’s office has declined to make any comment.