Nicola Sturgeon police probe could detonate ‘political grenade’

Nicola Sturgeon, former first minister, is still under investigation, Police Scotland confirmed
The former first minister, is still under investigation, Police Scotland confirmed - Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Scotland’s prosecutors could detonate a “political grenade” that derails the SNP’s general election campaign, a nationalist MP has warned them after they confirmed Nicola Sturgeon remains under investigation.

Angus MacNeil urged the Crown Office to provide “clarity” on whether they will “hold off” until after the election on bringing any further charges over the investigation into the SNP’s finances.

The Western Isles MP said any action over Operation Branchform before July 4 had “huge potential to change the narrative of this campaign”.

Although he was expelled from the SNP last year, Mr MacNeil said he was concerned for his former colleagues that their campaigns “could get blown off course if any more charges – or indeed any prosecutions – are brought during the election period”.

He said he was doing SNP MPs “a favour” by writing to the Crown Office as they could not be seen to be trying to influence prosecutors by asking for the information.

His intervention came after Police Scotland announced last Friday, on the second day of campaigning, that a report had been handed to the Crown Office in relation to Peter Murrell.

Mr Murrell, who is Ms Sturgeon’s husband and the SNP’s former chief executive, has been charged in connection with embezzling funds from the party.

The Crown Office also said that investigations into Ms Sturgeon and Colin Beattie, the SNP’s former treasurer, “remain ongoing”.

In a statement, it said that any decisions on what happens next “are not influenced by political events”, suggesting that they would not be specially postponed until after the election campaign.

But the investigation is a huge headache for the SNP, with polls already predicting the party is on course to be routed in Scotland by a resurgent Labour.

Mr MacNeil was one of the SNP’s longest-serving MPs, serving 18 years on the party’s benches in the Commons, before being expelled last year following a row with the chief whip.

He is standing again as an independent candidate in the election but said he was writing to the Crown Office to “seek clarity” on behalf of his ex-colleagues and voters.

“I am writing to seek clarity because of the potential political hand grenade of more possible charges resulting from this investigation,” he said.

“It has the huge potential to change the narrative of this campaign. Will the Crown Office hold off until after July 4 as a result?

“I am quite concerned for SNP friends on the mainland. Because I am no longer a SNP MP I can solicit the information that they perhaps can’t ask for.

“I am doing a favour for those campaigns that could get blown off course if any more charges – or indeed any prosecutions –  are brought during the election period.”

Since July 2021, Police Scotland’s Operation Branchform has been examining the SNP’s handling of more than £600,000 in donations raised in 2017 for a second independence referendum.

Supporter complaints

Supporters made complaints when accounts lodged with Companies House in 2020 appeared to show the SNP only had £97,000 in the bank despite the referendum never having been held.

On Apr 5 last year, police raided Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell’s home and searched it for two days, erecting a large evidence tent. A luxury motorhome was also confiscated from outside the Fife home of Mr Murrell’s elderly mother.

He was also arrested in the raid. The following month Colin Beattie, the SNP’s former treasurer, was arrested then Ms Sturgeon in June.

All three were released without charge pending further investigation and Ms Sturgeon has vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Murrell, who married Ms Sturgeon in 2010, was arrested a second time last month and charged. Police Scotland said she and Mr Beattie remained “under investigation”.

In response to Mr MacNeil’s call for clarity, the Crown Office referred to the statement it issued last Thursday when the report on Mr Murrell was submitted.

Referring to Ms Sturgeon and Mr Beattie, it said: “Connected investigations of two other individuals, a man aged 72 and a 53-year-old woman, remain ongoing.”

It also said: “Decisions on how to proceed are taken by prosecutors acting independently, and are based upon available evidence, legal principles, and the merits of each case. They are not influenced by political events.”

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Investigations continue and we are unable to comment further.”

An SNP spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate to comment while a police investigation continues.