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Last Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006, 21:08 GMT 22:08 UK
Jailed SSP official is released
Alan McCombes leaves prison
Alan McCombes was released from prison in Edinburgh
A senior Scottish Socialist Party official who was jailed for refusing to hand over documents to a court has been freed from prison.

A judge had ordered that Alan McCombes be held in prison until 6 June for flouting a Court of Session deadline.

Lady Smith ordered his release on Monday after the SSP handed over minutes of a party meeting.

But Mr McCombes said the party should have stood firm and accused colleagues of "buckling under pressure".

Speaking after leaving prison, he said: "While personally relieved to be liberated, for the time being at least, I salute those 60 plus delegates of the National Council who remained steadfast and took the difficult option to continue defiance.

Some members of the National Council who had previously urged defiance lost their nerve and buckled under pressure
Alan McCombes

"If I had been in their shoes and someone else had been in mine I would have voted to continue the defiance.

"I have responded to the democratic vote of the SSP's National Council and will carry on the battle for confidentiality through legal channels."

He said there had been an escalation of the situation in recent days.

"Faced with this onslaught, some members of the National Council who had previously urged defiance lost their nerve and buckled under pressure," he said.

Open letter

The documents had been demanded by the News of the World for its defence of a defamation case brought by SSP MSP Tommy Sheridan.

Mr Sheridan stepped down as party convener in November 2004 citing family reasons, shortly after allegations about his private life were published by the newspaper.

On Sunday, the party's ruling council voted in favour of handing the documents over to the court.

Mr Sheridan had called on them to take the step in an open letter to activists.

I am glad to see the documents have so belatedly been produced
Lady Smith

The documents were given to court officials in a sealed envelope by Paul Cullen QC, counsel for Mr McCombes, on Monday.

It is expected that further debate will take place in front of Lady Smith before any decision is taken on whether the envelope can be opened and the contents inspected.

Mr Cullen asked Lady Smith to grant his client "interim liberation".

Lady Smith agreed to free Mr McCombes, saying: "I am glad to see the documents have so belatedly been produced."

However, she warned the SSP that the party may face financial penalties for delaying the release of the papers.

Mr McCombes was not in court himself due to a mix-up by the prisoner transport service at Saughton Prison but was released later.

The penalties for continued defiance are absolutely brutal
Colin Fox
SSP convener

He is expected to return to the Court of Session on 6 June.

Lady Smith had originally said that on that date she would make a ruling on whether he was guilty of contempt of court.

She also wants the names of SSP members who had earlier called for the records to be destroyed to be produced on 6 June.

SSP convener Colin Fox welcomed the decision to free Mr McCombes.

He said there had been "a point of principle" in defending the party's democratic rights to maintain its own minutes and confidentiality.

"But we also had to consider two things. First of all the penalties for continued defiance are absolutely brutal - it's a measure of the fight you take on.

"Secondly, the motion at the national council moved by many people, including Tommy Sheridan himself, asked that the best way forward was to get Alan out of jail and that we should hand in the minutes and the courts should be allowed to consider whether or not they're relevant to the action currently ongoing," he said.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the reaction from SSP members



SEE ALSO
SSP votes to hand over documents
29 May 06 |  Scotland
'Fruitless' search of SSP offices
27 May 06 |  Scotland
SSP official jailed over papers
26 May 06 |  Scotland
Sheridan 'draws line' under exit
27 Nov 04 |  Scotland

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