BOB Bird faced the prospect of a criminal trial for nearly three years, but the former editor of the Scottish News of the World only found out from social media that his case had been dropped.


The 59 year old, charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice in relation to the Tommy Sheridan defamation trial in 2006, said his daughter broke the news to him last week: "She saw something on Twitter, rang me up about 10 o'clock and said 'dad, I think the charges have been dropped against you'."

The Crown Office put out a statement, but Bird says the prosecutors have still not written to him.

"I've not heard anything officially. That's the modern world for you," he says, in his only newspaper interview.

Sitting in a cafe in Clarkston, Bird, who edited the now-defunct tabloid for eleven years, says he feels relieved about the Crown's decision: "I hope we have drawn a line under the whole thing now and I can move on with my life. I feel like it's been on hold since I lost my job."

The last three years have been hell for him, he says: the closure of the News of the World in 2011 left him without a job; and he was charged a year later. Both events left a dark cloud hanging over his life.

His immediate priority is to pay his legal bills.

Unlike Andy Coulson - who was also declared a free man last week after his perjury trial in Edinburgh collapsed - Bird's costs are not being borne by his previous employer.

"He [Coulson] had a clause in his contract to say that anything that happened to him whilst he was editor, they would indemnify him for.

"I wrote personally to people in positions of authority in News International three or four years ago and received no reply. I guess I'm stuck.

"Morally, I think they should have supported me."

Bird's legal difficulties - he was arrested and charged in 2012 - are intimately linked to the never-ending saga of the Tommy Sheridan case.

After the News of the World published allegations in 2004 about Sheridan's sex life, the then leader of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) successfully sued the Murdoch red-top for £200,000.

Sheridan was then found guilty in 2010 of telling lies in the first trial about his attendance at the Cupid's swingers' club.

The soap opera continued when, months after Sheridan was jailed, the News of the World closed amid revelations of phone hacking and malpractice at the UK title in London.

A Scottish police investigation was launched - Operation Rubicon - and Bird, Coulson and former news editor Douglas Wight were charged with various alleged crimes.

All three cases either collapsed or were dropped last week.

Bird believes Rubicon, which was wound up after leading to no convictions, was launched due to pressure by Sheridan and his allies.

"I think the whole thing was possibly set in motion to satisfy Tommy Sheridan's craze for justice. [Labour MP] Tom Watson and various others were standing up in Parliament naming me. The whole process was started by that."

Although Bird was not charged with phone hacking, he is adamant that intercepting communications did not take place on his watch at the Scottish edition: "Just to be clear, whatever went wrong in London regarding this didn't extend to Scotland. We never hacked phones in Scotland."

Given the amount of money the UK tabloid would pay for stories, he says there was an obsession with internal leaks and the Scottish edition was not in the loop about news-gathering south of the border.

"They were scared to share with anyone down there, let alone someone 500 miles away. We would find out on Saturday, sometimes Saturday night, what the splash was going to be in London.

"My point is that if we didn't know what stories were going to go on the front page, we are not going to know how they got those stories."

As editor between 2000 and 2011, Bird's tabloid produced a raft of celebrity and crime stories and other tabloid fare.

However, his editorship will always be known for the stories that sunk the career of Sheridan, who was a respected MSP and tipped for a long stint at Holyrood.

Three key articles were published: the first, in late 2004, concerned allegations that the then News of the World columnist Anvar Khan had gone to a sex club with an unnamed MSP.

The disclosure triggered panic in the SSP and led to Sheridan's resignation as leader, as he privately confessed to colleagues that he was the mystery politician hinted at in the tabloid.

This spiral of events led to the second story: a so-called 'kiss and tell' from former sex worker Fiona McGuire, who alleged an affair with Sheridan.

Both stories dominated the defamation trial that Sheridan won in 2006.

However, following Sheridan's victory, Bird's colleagues broke the story that eventually led to the socialist politician's downfall.

Following a clandestine meeting with George McNeilage - who had been one of Sheridan's best men at his wedding - Bird obtained a video of Sheridan confessing to the sex club visit, which cost the paper £200,000.

Detectives at Lothian and Borders police examined the recording, Sheridan was charged with perjury and jailed in 2011.

For Bird, the tape was the turning point: "It was the vital piece of evidence, without which there would have been no perjury trial in 2010.

"Even today, anyone who listens and watches the 40 minutes or so that it lasts, will know without a shadow of a doubt that it's Tommy admitting he told lies."

McNeilage famously got Bird to strip at the secret meeting, as a way of checking the editor was not wearing a bug.

Bird recalls: "When I was sitting there in my underpants...and he said he was one of Tommy's best men at his wedding, I did suddenly think this is where the Russian hookers come on in their underwear, throw themselves at me, and somebody takes a picture."

If he is proud of the McNeilage expose, Bird is less confident on the McGuire story, which was pulled apart in the 2006 trial and is unlikely to be taught in journalism school any time soon.

"We may never know the rights and wrongs of the story that featured Fiona McGuire," he said. "I don't think we'll ever know whether it was 100% true, 95% true, or not true at all."

He continued: "Do I have doubts now that her story was totally accurate? Yes I do, but its publication helped to eventually expose Tommy Sheridan for the person he truly is, something that was reinforced in evidence in both cases from the likes of Katrine Trolle and Anvar Khan."

Although Sheridan believes the News of the World, police officers, prosecutors, journalists and SSP members conspired against him, Bird did not see the original story in 2004 as anything spectacular.

"All the things he has said over the years, that we had an agenda and a big conspiracy with the state and the police and Rupert Murdoch, was just total nonsense. It was just another story.

"If you said 'was exposing Tommy the highlight of my career', I'd say no."

He concedes that he under-estimated the lengths to which Sheridan would go to protect his false reputation, but says he feels no bitterness towards him: "I don't hate him. I don't despise him. I'm not angry at him. He's just sad and deluded. If he had taken a different route, rather than go to court fighting something he was fundamentally wrong about, he'd still be in politics now."

Bird now provides PR and media consultancy services to clients, but with the criminal charges dropped he hankers for a return to journalism: "If someone out there would like an experienced old hand to act in some role, I am open to offers. You can't beat journalism as a career."

On the News of the World's closure in 2011, which triggered his departure from journalism, he said: "It was a bit of a shock, to say the least. But I've always been good at coping with shocks. I am not really a man of huge extremes. The world is ending tomorrow? Fair enough. We'll just have to deal with it."

Does he believe his former newspaper was out of control at a UK level?

"It was a problem in London. I am happy about the way we operated by the book in Scotland," he says.

His final words are reserved for Sheridan, whose slim chances of a re-trial appeared to die last week after the cases against Bird and his former colleagues collapsed.

"I've made mistakes in my professional life, got things wrong, and made mistakes in my personal life too," he says.

"But every time I've made a mistake at work or at home I think I've put my hands up, admitted it, apologised and tried to do better in future. I think that's what real men do. Come on Tommy, it's time to finally own up, apologise and then shut up. Be a real man".