The judge showed humanity. Elsewhere, the viciousness was breathtaking to behold


    by Kenneth Roy

    Lord Bracadale’s speech in the High Court yesterday was one of the more admirable delivered from the Scottish bench in recent years.  Sentencing the convicted perjurer to a term of imprisonment at least a year shorter than anyone had predicted, the judge paid a handsome tribute to Tommy Sheridan’s achievements in public office and his contribution to the social and political history of modern Scotland before the ‘temple walls’ came crashing down on his life and reputation.

    For fairness and balance, and the unexpected leniency of the outcome, it would be hard to fault Lord Bracadale.  Justice was tempered with mercy, making the immediate attack on the judge’s ‘vindictiveness’ by Mr Sheridan’s supporters all the more ludicrous.

    In a minor contribution to last night’s ‘Newsnight Scotland’ recorded before the events of yesterday, I said that the only beneficiary of the factionalism of the far left in Scotland would be the mainstream Labour Party; observing the grotesque pantomime of the last 24 hours has done nothing to alter that conclusion.  How irredeemably silly they all look, the ones still at liberty to make absurd statements as well as the one temporarily silenced who woke up in Barlinnie this morning.  Who could blame the disillusioned socialists of the west of Scotland if, come May, they fell exhausted into the arms of Iain Gray – or failed to vote at all?

    It was perhaps too much to expect that the humanity of Lord Bracadale – earlier demonstrated in his decision to continue bail for a month before sentencing – would set a rational example to the tweeting mob in and around the court.  As it happened, it was the only exhibition of humanity on display as the prisoner went down.  Elsewhere there was a viciousness quite breathtaking to behold.

    A little bit of me is still mentally employed by the BBC although it is 25 years since I worked for it.  So when the first image I saw on BBC Scotland’s website at lunchtime yesterday was a photograph of Tommy Sheridan inside the prison van taking him to deepest Riddrie – a visual cheap shot once associated only with the lowest newspapers – I felt a gut-wrenching sadness that it had come to this.  The caption on the photograph read: ‘BBC News Grab’.  Quite so.  But what the present management at Pacific Quay has really grabbed, grabbed and then brutally ditched, is the last vestige of the Reithian ideal, the BBC’s once instinctive sense of its responsibilities as a public service broadcaster.

    Its political correspondent, Mr Buchanan, in his first tweet of the morning, described himself and his colleagues in the High Court as ‘hacks’.  Is that really the way BBC journalists now see themselves – as hacks?  I had the honour of working with a BBC journalist (David Scott) who devoted the best years of his professional life to the relentless pursuit and eventual correction of a major miscarriage of justice.  No wonder I felt a certain pride in working for such an organisation.  It stood for something.

    The press coverage this morning is, of course, more horrible than anything of which the BBC, even in its present low condition, is capable.

    What does it stand for now? It is still showing the police tapes of interviews with the two accused which it appropriated – ‘obtained’ to use its own euphemism – from an unknown source.  It refuses to name the source.  Was it the police?  Was it the Crown Office?  Was it the defence?  These were the only parties with access to the tapes and all deny responsibility.  Whatever the source, there was no legal authority for their release.  In the absence of any assurance to the contrary, we are entitled to conclude that the tapes were illegally copied – a form of theft – and handed to the BBC, which then broadcast them.

    The Liberal Democrats’ justice spokesperson, Robert Brown, to his great credit, has been attempting to get at the truth of this matter, but with little success.  The director of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, has informed Mr Brown that the BBC did not pay for the tapes.  SR (the only media outlet to have expressed any interest in the story) never suggested that the BBC had paid for the tapes.  The fact that no money changed hands does not dispose of the ethical question.  But, despite the parliamentary interest in its behaviour, BBC Scotland is quite shameless about it all, promoting the tapes at every opportunity.  It even managed to squeeze some footage from them into a nasty footnote to a bulletin last night: the ‘news’, using the word at its loosest, that Tommy Sheridan had refused to give the BBC a pre-sentence interview.

    Why, in all the circumstances, would he have agreed to be interviewed by a media organisation which broadcasts the tape of a police interview with his wife, despite her acquittal on all charges, an interview that is now the subject of civil action?

    The press coverage this morning is, of course, more cruel and horrible than anything of which the BBC, even in its present low condition, is capable.  ‘Daddy’s Away to Work’ screams the Daily Mail….’What lying Sheridan will tell his little girl while he’s in a jail cell’.  Journalists have been defined as people who make small children cry in the playground.  It is difficult to say which is more repellent – the readiness to victimise children or the high moral tone in which it is done.

    In the meantime – our very mean time – a larger agenda of public immorality emerges from the detritus of the Sheridan trial.  The Telephone Tappers and Shafters Club looks set for a long run.  Who knew what and when?  Who paid what to whom?  Why was the original police investigation into practices at the News of the World so half-hearted?  Where will the trail of emails lead?  Who knows who will go to jail next?  The foolish man who languishes in a Victorian hall in Glasgow this morning may soon begin to look like extremely small fry.  Best keep a cell block available for the journalists themselves, and some of their friends in the police.{jcomments on}

    This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Kenneth Roy.
    Read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review.