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Gail force

Gail Sheridan and her lawyer Aamer Anwar make a statement outside Glasgow High Court following the sentencing of husband Tommy

 

Gail Sheridan and her lawyer Aamer Anwar make a statement outside Glasgow High Court following the sentencing of husband Tommy

Gail eyes Tommy mischievously before walking across the stage and over his prone body, belting out the lyrics to ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.

“You keep lying, when you oughta be truthin’, and you keep losin’ when you oughta not bet… You keep playin’ where you shouldn’ta be a-playin’, and you keep thinkin’ that you’ll never get burnt” – the Nancy Sinatra classic prophetically booms from a karaoke machine. The anecdote of a riotous Tommy and Gail duet from a drunken Christmas party in the late 1990s is told by a former friend of this permatanned couple whose perjury court battle gripped the nation for months.

“Tommy got headlines for his epic ‘David vs Goliath’ speech outside the courthouse, but putting his wife in the witness stand was his trump card”

The fall from grace of ex-Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan, sentenced to three years in jail after lying under oath about a string of affairs and visits to a sex club during a £200,000 defamation action against the News of the World, is well documented. But by his side, both in and out of the dock, has been his doggedly loyal wife, Gail, who has played an intriguing, and sometimes overlooked, role in the whole saga.

“I have and will always stand by Tommy,” was the former British Airways stewardess’s valedictory salvo on the steps of Glasgow High Court – the crucible for Scotland’s longest and most dramatic perjury case. It was an amazing finale given the sheer body of evidence against her husband.

One of Tommy’s former closest allies, ex-socialist MSP Rosie Kane, was one of 16 witnesses at the perjury trial to say Tommy had admitted visiting sex clubs, and claims that Gail was used by her husband as a “human shield” for his own failings.

“Behind closed doors, I am sure Gail will have read him the Riot Act but she is also a victim,” she claims. “She has been manipulated – Tommy is terrifyingly calculating and he has probably spoken down the gravity of what he has done. Then he pushed her into a trap and she can’t get out of it now. I loved Gail, I have always stuck up for her and I am glad she was acquitted. She is much smarter than Tommy – he needs Gail but she is too good for him.”

Both hailing from the same staunchly working-class area of Glasgow, the couple got together just after Tommy became the poster boy for a backlash against Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax plans in the late 1980s. Their relationship was a tabloid love affair; Tommy was the charming, erudite, self-proclaimed champion of the people taking on the po-faced Scottish establishment with Gail his glamorous sidekick, complete with a gameshow-hostess smile.

“Once her decision was reached and her choices made, Gail committed herself to fighting his corner with every strength”

But Gail has more to offer than the immaculate mien gleaned from 25 years working as cabin crew. Seemingly endless reserves of tenacity were evident in 2008 when a detective questioning Gail about the perjury allegations claimed she blanked all of his questions and stared only at her rosary beads – a tactic favoured by the IRA at the height of the Troubles. Gail also sat resolutely through her husband’s often brittle defence which included claims of MI5 bugging and an improbable alliance against Tommy between his former Socialist comrades and Rupert Murdoch’s News International corporation.

Gail’s role in the affair stretches back to when the News of the World printed a story in October 2004 that an unnamed MSP had attended Cupids swingers club in Manchester with the paper’s then-columnist Anvar Khan. At that point, despite rumours, Tommy had not been named publicly, but his biggest problem was that Gail was privately demanding answers.

Tommy and Gail Sheridan outside the Court of Session in Edinburgh, July 2006

In what he was later allegedly secretly filmed as describing as a “humongous mistake”, he allegedly admitted to an emergency meeting of the Scottish Socialist Party that he had been to Cupids. He later denied making this admission and was boxed into a corner where he had to stick to the conspiracy victim line. He also needed Gail to join him.

Later allegations that Tommy had an affair with former prostitute Fiona McGuire crystallised the Sheridans’ determination to sue for defamation despite even the likes of George Galloway – Scotland’s other firebrand socialist for whom taking on “the Man” is as natural as breathing – warning them against it.

Tommy got the headlines after winning the defamation case against the News of the World for his epic “David vs Goliath” speech outside the courthouse, but putting his wife in the witness stand was his trump card. Gail gave a warm and accomplished performance which picked holes in a seemingly unassailable prosecution case.

She questioned why none of the women who claimed to have slept with her husband had mentioned that he “looks like a gorilla” with his clothes off. But her tour de force was when she stared Tommy
coldly down from the witness stand and told him if the allegations of his affairs were true, “You would be in the Clyde with a piece of concrete tied to you and I’d be in court for your murder.” It was pure theatre and the jury lapped it up and sent the Sheridans home £200,000 richer. To paraphrase one of the most famous headlines from News International’s stable – “It’s Gail Wot Won It”.

Journalist Margaret Clayton has been a friend of Gail’s since first interviewing her six years ago. “Gail’s witty, warm, down to earth, kindly but nobody’s fool,” she explains. “To use an old Glasgow saying, ‘not a wumman you’d take an open pay packet home to’.

“She will have grilled Tommy more mercilessly than any prosecutor ever could. Once her decision was reached and her choices made, Gail committed herself to fighting his corner with every strength.”

The future

Speculation that Tommy would appeal his perjury conviction has fallen away since he was handed a three-year sentence in January, but the one concrete development is that the News of the World is going to court to get its £200,000 defamation payout back – plus legal costs.

This would be a financial blow to the couple, and in the meantime it will be up to Gail to provide for their five-year-old daughter Gabrielle.

Tommy’s story clearly has the makings of a sensational autobiography but he would be hampered by the fact that, under Scottish law, he is not allowed to profit from his crime. This opens the door for Gail to pen her own memoir of being married to one of the most infamous men in Scotland.

The toxic fallout from the Sheridan trials has left the socialists a spent force in Scottish politics but in January Gail was surrounded by persistent rumours that she was preparing to step out from the shadows of her husband and lead the Solidarity party Tommy founded.

Gail’s plan had supposedly been to stand in May’s Scottish Parliament election but this was derailed by George Galloway’s decision to go for the same Glasgow seat – this is simply because there are not enough far-left votes to go around for the two of them.

But this has done nothing to dampen Gail’s enthusiasm for making her case heard. Making her first public appearance since her husband was jailed, Gail told a ‘Defend Tommy Sheridan’ campaign meeting in February that her husband was receiving ten to 15 cards from well-wishers every day.

She also claimed Tommy might be out of prison as early as January next year, reading a statement from her husband that the “collaborators and liars” who put him behind bars will be in “prisons of guilt and prisons of shame” for the rest of their lives. On the day he was sentenced, Gail had told the crowd outside Glasgow Crown Court that “It won’t be long before Tommy is back – stronger and continuing the fight.”

Gail is not going to give up her husband’s cause lightly, and clearly intends to confound his critics and resurrect his reputation. As Nancy Sinatra put it, “One of these days, these boots are gonna walk all over you.”

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