The Crown has launched a robust defence of its decision to prosecute Andy Coulson for perjury at the Tommy Sheridan trial.


The former News of the World editor and convicted phone-hacker walked free from court on Wednesday after a judge ruled he had no case to answer.

The 47-year-old had been accused of lying on oath about his knowledge of phone-hacking at the 2010 trial of ex-MSP Mr Sheridan.

But Lord Burns, acquitting Mr Coulson at the High Court in Edinburgh, said this allegedly false evidence had not been "relevant" to Mr Sheridan's own trial and subsequent conviction for earlier lying about his sex life on oath.

The judge said: "Not every lie amounts to perjury."

Prosecutors, in a rare defence of their actions, have privately told The Herald they had no reason to assume that evidence admitted at Mr Sheridan trial would not be considered legally material at Mr Coulson's.

However, the collapse of their case has sparked a wave of criticism from Mr Coulson, Mr Sheridan - and legal heavyweights.

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James Chalmers, regius professor of law at Glasgow University, questioned why the Crown had taken Mr Coulson, once Prime Minister David Cameron's spin doctor, to trial in the first place.

The academic stressed that the Crown did not just need to prove that Mr Coulson had lied under oath - prosecutors had to show that any alleged lie was relevant to the case concerned.

He said: "It is difficult to see what the Crown was hoping to do at the trial. It is difficult to see how they thought they were going to be able to prove relevance.

"It is the kind of point you would hope would be solved by legal debate."

Mr Coulson, speaking as he left court, was blunter. He said: "This prosecution was always wrong. I didn't lie and the prosecution, in my view, was a gross waste of public money."

The Crown Office rarely responds in any detail to such criticism.

An official spokesman stressed that "cost was never a factor" when considering prosecutions.

This is despite claims from Aamer Anwar, Mr Sheridan's former lawyer, that £1 million was spent investigating Mr Coulson's perjury and Scottish phone-hacking cases without achieving any convictions.

The official Crown spokesman added: "An allegation of perjury was made in this case and it was in the public interest that this was fully investigated and the evidence brought before the court.

"The public require to have confidence in the judicial system and we will continue to treat perjury as the serious offence it is and to bring prosecutions when there is sufficient, credible and reliable evidence of a crime."

However, a more senior Crown source, speaking on condition of anonymity, made a far more robust defence of the decision to take Mr Coulson to trial.

He said his office had no reason to believe that Lord Burns would rule Mr Coulson's testimony irrelevant. He said: "Hindsight is a great thing."

The former journalist's evidence came after he was called as a defence. witness by Mr Sheridan, who was representing himself.

Part of Mr Sheridan's defence was that he was the victim of a conspiracy by the News of the World, which had hacked his phone.

This, stressed Crown sources, was a line of defence allowed by the original 2010 trial judge.

The source said: "The fact that this evidence was false - allegedly - provided the basis for the prosecution, the trial judge is, of course, entitled to form his own view of relevance which he did.

"But at the time of taking the decision to indict we did not know how the trial judge would rule.

"We were entitled to rely on the the fact that the evidence was admitted without objection and intervention by the judge."