Nicola Sturgeon still under police investigation as she talks of ‘incredibly difficult’ situation

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon speaks to reporters outside her home on Friday - PA/Andrew Milligan

Police Scotland have confirmed Nicola Sturgeon is still under investigation as she said her husband being charged with embezzling funds from the SNP was “incredibly difficult”.

The former first minister emerged from the home near Glasgow she shares with Peter Murrell, the SNP’s former chief executive, on Friday, the day after he was charged by detectives examining the party’s finances.

Dressed in black leggings and a pink fleece, Ms Sturgeon initially said there was “absolutely nothing I can say given the circumstances” and appealed for privacy.

She then said her husband of nearly 14 years being charged “in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the Scottish National Party” had been personally difficult. It was the second time he had been arrested during the inquiry.

Police confirmed that neither Ms Sturgeon nor Colin Beattie, the SNP’s former treasurer, who were both also arrested last year, had been charged, but said they “remain under investigation” as part of Operation Branchform, the inquiry into SNP finances.

Humza Yousaf, Ms Sturgeon’s successor as SNP leader and First Minister, also described his shock at the charge and noted it was a “really serious matter indeed”.

He argued that Scots should continue to trust his party as it was “really important” to emphasise that the SNP was alleged to have been the victim of embezzlement.

The First Minister said he only found out about Mr Murrell being charged when it was announced by police on Thursday evening, and added the former SNP chief executive had done “the right thing” by resigning his party membership.

Nicola Sturgeon speaks to reporters outside her home on Friday
Nicola Sturgeon speaks to reporters outside her home on Friday - Wattie Cheung

However, there was fury among senior SNP politicians about the political damage being caused to the party, especially in a general election year.

Mr Murrell, 59, attended Falkirk police station by appointment on Thursday morning and was taken into custody at 9.13am by detectives as part of Operation Branchform.

After more than nine hours of questioning, he was charged at 6.35pm and released from police custody. He returned home later that evening.

Peter Murrell arrived home on Thursday evening after police announced he had been charged
Peter Murrell arrived home on Thursday evening after police announced he had been charged - Wattie Cheung

Police will shortly send a report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Scotland’s prosecution service, which will assess it and decide whether there is sufficient evidence to bring the case to court. This process could take several weeks.

Mr Murrell was the party’s chief executive between 2001 and March last year, when he resigned after accepting the blame for the public being misled about the number of SNP members. He married Ms Sturgeon in 2010.

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

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 April 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 confiscated from outside the Fife home of Mr Murrell’s elderly mother.

Mr Murrell was arrested at the time of the raid, which took place the week after Mr Yousaf became First Minister. The following month, Mr Beattie was arrested, followed by Ms Sturgeon in June.

A police van outside the home Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell share
A police van drives past photographers outside the home Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell share on Friday - PA/Andrew Milligan

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

On Friday, Ms Sturgeon told reporters outside her home: “There is absolutely nothing I can say given the circumstances so I’m now going to go out for a walk if that’s all right with you.”

She urged the media to “give my neighbours some peace”, adding: “There’s nothing going to be happening here.”

Asked how difficult Mr Murrell’s arrest had been for her, she said: “It’s incredibly difficult. But you know, that’s not the main issue here.

“I can’t say any more. I’m not going to say any more if you don’t mind. I’d also really appreciate – I’m still quite a new driver so please try not to distract me when I’m driving away.” She then got into her car.

Humza Yousaf speaking at Holyrood
Humza Yousaf also spoke of his shock at Peter Murrell being charged - Getty/Ken Jack

Referring to Ms Sturgeon and Mr Beattie, a Police Scotland spokesman said: “A 72-year-old man arrested on April 18 2023, and a 53-year-old woman arrested on June 11 2023 have not been re-arrested or charged, but remain under investigation as part of enquiries into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party.”

Speaking from the First Minister’s Bute House residence in Edinburgh, Mr Yousaf was asked how he intended to rebuild public trust in the SNP.

He said: “The police statement makes it very clear that an individual has been charged with embezzlement, embezzlement of funds from the SNP. I think that’s really important to reiterate here.

“So this will be a shock to many people, myself included, who have known Peter for a number of years. There is an ongoing investigation, and I’ve got to let the police do their job.

“In terms of people trusting the SNP, I certainly hope, and I’m not ever complacent about this, that they will continue to trust us because of the record of delivery.”

Mr Yousaf defended not having suspended Mr Murrell’s party membership earlier, arguing the police should have been allowed to conclude their inquiries before action was taken.

He also confirmed Mr Beattie and Ms Sturgeon remained SNP members, saying: “Their circumstances as far as I can see from the latest developments hasn’t changed.”