Tommy Sheridan to challenge gagging order

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By a Newsnet reporter 

A row has now broken out after it was revealed that former MSP, Tommy Sheridan, will be barred from speaking in public until the full term of his three year sentence has expired.

Mr Sheridan, who is set to be released on parole, is to be barred from addressing public meetings, or having any dealings with the media, as part of his release order.  Mr Sheridan’s legal advisor has stated that the Solidarity leader will challenge the order.

The former leader of the Scottish Socialist party, who is now joint convenor of the Solidarity party, is shortly to be released from Castle Huntly prison west of Dundee after serving just over one year of his three year sentence for perjury.

The measure will effectively rule Mr Sheridan out from taking any part in the campaign for May’s local elections.  Although Mr Sheridan will not himself be standing for election, it has been reported that the former MSP wishes to take an active part in the campaign. 

Mr Sheridan is due to be released early as prisoners serving less than four years are normally allowed to return to the community after serving one half of their sentence.  However under current regulations, such prisoners may be permitted to serve out the last six months of their prison sentence at home under strict curfew conditions, and on condition that they are electronically tagged.

Aamer Anwar, Mr Sheridan’s lawyer, has called the public speaking ban imposed upon the disgraced former SSP leader “draconian” and an outrage.  Mr Anwar accused the prison service of attempting to gag his client, and said that Mr Sheridan intended to challenge the gagging order in the courts.

Mr Anwar said:

“It’s unprecedented, absolutely draconian and denies my client the right to earn a living.  Once we have had a chance to check the papers, he fully intends to challenge it in the courts.

“He is a leader of a political party and a former radio presenter but effectively he has been stopped from doing either job. How is he meant to support his young family?

“His wife is redundant, she’s not working, and they’ve a young child. All the funds have been used up. What is he meant to do? What if he is talking to his colleagues at a political meeting and a member of the media slips in and reports it?

“When Tommy Sheridan is released he will be hounded by certain sections of the media.

“If, over a period of six months, he was to slip or respond and that was to appear in the papers then he could be recalled to prison.

“When you are released on home detention curfew, what they are saying is you’re of no threat and have met the standards required for release into society.”

Mr Anwar added that a decision has been taken to seek a judicial review of the gagging order, if it appears in the conditions of Mr Sheridan’s release on Monday.

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, condemned the gagging order placed on Mr Sheridan, saying:

“Although Mr Sheridan holds views that I do not agree with I do not believe his right to express these views should be curtailed.

“In the run up to May’s local elections and in the early stages of the referendum debate he should be free to take an active role in promoting the things he believes in.

“To bar him participation is counter to our democratic values.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Prison Service said that home detention curfew conditions were specific to individual cases.  The Service would neither confirm nor deny the gagging order, and could not comment on individual cases.