‘Not every lie amounts to perjury’
Tommy Sheridan maintained the core of his defence in his perjury trial in 2010 was that the News of the World had engaged in a conspiracy to bring him down. Central to that accusation was that the News of the World had hacked Sheridan’s phone. This had been put to Andy Coulson when he appeared as a witness in the case. He had denied on oath having any knowledge of hacking. Three former colleagues stated in the recent case that this was untrue - they claimed he knew full well that the paper used hacking to get stories. Last week the jury were sent home as legal arguments were put before the judge. Yesterday the result of those arguments became clear. The perjury case against Coulson collapsed.
In a quite remarkable ruling the judge, Lord Burns, said: "Not every lie amounts to perjury.” Apparently under Scottish law for a lie to be classed as perjury, the lie must have had a significant bearing on the outcome of the case. The judge felt the lies had not been relevant to Sheridan’s conviction.
Coulson emerged triumphantly from the courtroom and claimed he had been vindicated and that he had not lied. Not so Mr Coulson. Cleared of perjury but not of lying. After thanking the judge Coulson thanked his “brilliant legal team”. You bet he did. Whoever persuaded a judge to accept that lying in court was somehow acceptable deserves every squillion coming their way.
Coulson now goes down in history as the man who lied in court yet walked away Scot free.
He joins other paragons such as Ernest Saunders. He was convicted in 1990 in the Guinness share trading fraud case. Among his convicted colleagues was property developer Gerald Ronson. He claimed in his book ‘Leading From the Front’ that it was him who suggested the Alzheimer’s defence when they were in an open prison together.
"I joked, 'Make out that you're mentally ill. It wouldn't be difficult for you because besides being a psychotic liar, you are mentally deranged ... If you made out you've got Alzheimer's, nobody could ever prove it, because if they looked inside your head, what are they going to find?' "
Mr Saunders replied that he liked the idea. When he left, Mr Ronson remarked to his cellmate: "I bet he'll do that, tricky bastard that he is."
In an appeal, the judge reduced Mr Saunders' sentence to two and a half years, after hearing evidence that Mr Saunders was suffering from pre-senile dementia. With parole, Mr Saunders qualified for almost immediate release, having served just 10 months. As soon as the former Guinness chairman was free, Mr Ronson recalls, "Saunders miraculously 'recovered', apparently the first person in medical history ever to do so.” Independent 6/6/2009