Peter Sheridan was listed as the Director and a founding member of The Common Sense Alliance. The Common Sense Alliance was founded in August 2012, at the time when the EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision was being debated and the UK was at the close of its first consultation on Plain Packaging and was gearing up to review the responses. The Alliance’s website is no longer active. It was available to view in August 2014 but had been removed by December 2014.
On its now defunct website the Common Sense Alliance described itself as a "growing community who question excessive regulation that lacks evidence and has not been fully thought through..." In addition to plain packaging, the revision of the EU Tobacco Products Directive, the group was opposed regulation such as the late night levy on businesses selling alcohol between 12am and 6am, and taxes on fatty foods and nutrition labelling.Although they claimed not to be a political group, the Alliance effectively acted as a lobby group, mobilising support for its causes.
- For more detail see The Common Sense Alliance page.
Peter Sheridan began his career as a police officer in 1978 in Northern Ireland. He served for 30 years ascending the ranks to become the Assistant Chief Constable responsible for policing Northern Ireland outside the greater Belfast area. He graduated from the FBI Academy in 1999 and joined the Association of Chief Police Officers serving on a number of committees. Sheridan holds a BSc Honours degree and an MSc in Criminology from Cambridge, and was awarded the OBE from Her Majesty the Queen in 2007.
His experience with cigarette smuggling was built up during his period with the Organised Crime Department 2004 – 2008. (In 2006 he was appointed as Assistant Chief Constable Crime Operations for Rural Regions.) When the Irish troubles were coming to an end, part of the paramilitary forces increased their activity in smuggling and counterfeit. In his police capacity in 2005, Sheridan testified in the House of Comments on the harm caused by the sale of counterfeit goods and the “shoddy quality” and potentially dangerous content of those cigarettes.
Peter Sheridan left the police In Northern Ireland in 2008 after a 30 year career. He was the country’s most senior Catholic police officer at the moment in time, and tipped as the next Chief Constable. His early retirement – at the age of 48 - was reported as ‘a shock-exit’ that would leave a gap within the battle against serious and organised crime. Following his departure from the police force Sheridan became chief executive of Co-operation Ireland on 1 January 2009. The charity aims to promote better relations between people on both sides of the border a position he still held at the time of writing, in 2013, at £ 100,000 a year according to the Belfast Telegraph. Co-operation Ireland still listed Sheridan in this role in January 2015.
The Legacy Tobacco Documents Archive shows that Co-operation Ireland was sponsored by British American Tobacco back in the 1990s. A few dozen good causes each received a small amount of money; in 1992 BAT’s Board decided to donate £2500 for four years to Co-operation Ireland. Around the same time there was a connection between the organisation and the tobacco industry in the US as well. In 1994, the Curriculum Vitae of American Brands' retiring CEO William Alley, listed Chairman of the Board of Co-operation Ireland's US chapter as one of his other functions. Information available in the Archive does not reveal whether a relationship still exists today.
Against Plain Packaging
Sheridan was listed as the director of The Common Sense Alliance from August 2012. Lobbying against the plain packaging of tobacco products, The Alliance argued that:
- It will increase illicit trade as packets are less easily identified as genuine or illicit;
- The economy will suffer from revenue lost to illegal tobacco product sales;
- Once there is plain packaging for tobacco where will the government go next (slippery slope argument);
- Excessive regulation should be replaced with education for young people.
These arguments are the same as those promoted by the tobacco industry.
Both Sheridan and Roy Ramm - the other founding member of the Alliance who is also an ex-police officer - are experienced witness experts. They have both appeared before a Select Committee in Parliament to discuss the issue of tobacco smuggling in their police capacity. Subsequently, using their credentials as former police officers, both Sheridan and Ramm argued that plain packaging policy would lead to an increase in the illicit tobacco trade, while failing to mention their involvement in the Common Sense Alliance and its links to the tobacco industry:
- Just like Ramm, Sheridan was cited as an expert witness by tobacco companies in their submissions to the 2012 UK Consultation on Standardised Packaging (Sheridan by BAT and Ramm by Philip Morris International).
- The plain packaging views of both Ramm and Sheridan were quoted by the media, by anti-plain packaging campaigns such as Hands Off Our Packs and in personally penned pieces in both the Huffington Post and The Daily Mail. On 9th August 2012, Peter Sheridan was listed as the Director of the BAT supported Common Sense Alliance. However, in publications regarding plain packaging only his credentials as former police officer are mentioned:
- On 28 February 2013, Sheridan and Roy Ramm wrote a letter to Lord Hannay concerning the potential implications of the revised Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) on the illicit trade of tobacco products. Lord Hannay of Chiswick was the Chair of the House of Lords EU Sub Committee F which is responsible for considering the EU review of the TPD. The letter provided in great detail the credentials of both Sheridan and Ramm as former police officers, including positions held and relevant expertise in illicit trade. It did not however disclose that the two were in any way linked to either The Common Sense Alliance or BAT.
- For more detail on their lobbying, see 'Evidence’ presented to the House of Lords – No Mention of the Alliance.
Another Link to the Tobacco Industry
A news article in The Observer on Sunday 28 April 2013 exposed The Common Sense Alliance as a lobby group and Ramm and Sheridan as lobbyists. Both parties insisted that they were acting in a personal capacity and that neither had been paid by the tobacco industry. However, The Common Sense Alliance, a group both Ramm and Sheridan are founding members of, is financially supported by BAT.
In addition, the letter to Lord Hannay was sent by Goddard Global, a "multinational firm that provides the secretariat for the Alliance." A BAT spokesman confirmed it also employed the lobbying firm."
Speaking about Ramm and Sheridan, CEO of Action on Smoking and Health, Deborah Arnott was quoted:
- See the public health arguments countering those of The Common Sense Alliance’s and indeed the tobacco industry’s arguments against plain packaging.
- To read the public health side of the smuggling argument see Countering Industry Arguments Against Plain Packaging: It will Lead to Increased Smuggling.
- Internet Archive Way Back Machine, Cached www.thecommonsensealliance.com, 15 August 2014, accessed January 2015
- Internet Archive Way Back Machine, Cached www.commonsensealliance.com founding members, 15 August 2014, accessed January 2015
- House of Commons, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Organised Crime in Northern Ireland, Third Report of Session 2005-06, Volume 1, p. 11 and 18
- Co-operation Ireland, Peter Sheridan, accessed April 2013
- Belfast Telegraph, Top Catholic police officer's shock exit. Sheridan was tipped for Chief Constable's position, 2 April 2008, accessed May 2013
- BAT Industries plc, Board Meeting held at Windsor House, London, 28th July 1992, Legacy Tobacco Documents Archive
- American Brands, American Brands announces executive changes, 27 Sep 1994, Legacy Tobacco Documents Library
- S. Alexander, Plain pack cigarettes a ‘smuggler’s charter’, Belfast Telegraph, 26 September 2012, accessed April 2013
- A. Harbutt, Anti-tobacco activists protest too much, Hands Off Our Packs Campaign Blog, 2 October 2012, accessed April 2013
- J. Doward, Plain packaging lobbyists under fire over links to tobacco company, The Observer, 28 April 2013, accessed April 2013
- Peter Sheridan, Letter to Tobacco Programme Manager, UK Department for Health, 15 April 2013, accessed July 2014