Police submit SNP finances report to prosecutors

Peter MurrellImage source, PA
Image caption,

Peter Murrell was arrested in April last year as part of Operation Branchform

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Detectives have sent a report to Scotland's prosecution service in relation to Peter Murrell after the former SNP chief executive was charged with embezzling party funds.

The force said in a statement it had submitted a "standard prosecution report" to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Police Scotland added: "Investigations continue and we are unable to comment further."

Mr Murrell is the husband of Nicola Sturgeon, the former first minister of Scotland.

The Crown Office will now decide if there is enough evidence to prosecute Mr Murrell.

It will also decide whether it believes a prosecution would be in the public interest.

Media caption,

Branchform: What’s happening with investigation into SNP finances?

Mr Murrell was arrested on 5 April 2023 and subsequently released without charge while further inquiries were carried out.

Almost two weeks later, SNP treasurer Colin Beattie was arrested and released pending further investigations. He later stepped down as treasurer.

Ms Sturgeon was arrested on 11 June 2023, with officers questioning her for more than seven hours in a police station before she too was released without charge while further inquiries were carried out.

On 18 April this year, Mr Murrell was taken into custody again by police. This time he was charged with embezzlement.

In criminal law, the key difference between embezzlement and theft is that the accused was trusted to deal with the money or property in question.

It also often involves an allegation of the accused exceeding their authority.

In a statement, COPFS said the police report related to incidents said to have occurred between 2016 and 2023.

It added that investigations into both Mr Beattie and Ms Sturgeon remain ongoing.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Nicola Sturgeon was arrested and released without charge in June 2023

Ms Sturgeon denied that her decision to resign as first minister and SNP leader in March of last year was influenced by the police investigation.

She said she would fully co-operate with the investigation and has done nothing wrong.

Police Scotland's Operation Branchform has spent more than two years looking into what happened to £660,000 of donations given to the SNP by independence activists.

On the day of Mr Murrell's arrest, officers searched the home he shares with Ms Sturgeon in Glasgow.

The SNP's headquarters in Edinburgh were searched on the same day and a luxury motorhome valued at about £110,000 was also seized by police from outside the home of Mr Murrell's mother in Dunfermline.

Prosecutors 'don't show fear or favour'

A former chief executive of Scotland's prosecution service said decisions on the SNP investigation will be taken "without fear or favour."

Catherine Dyer was the first woman to be appointed Crown Agent, acting as the chief executive at the COPFS between 2010 and 2016.

She said going through a police report nearly three years after the investigation was launched could be "a mammoth task".

Prosecutors will examine its contents line by line, even if they already have a good idea what it says. They may ask detectives to carry out further inquiries.

Ms Dyer told BBC Scotland News: "A report going to the procurator fiscal does not mean there's definitely going to be a prosecution. It never means that.

"It means the police are putting information to the Crown to look at, to ascertain that there's enough evidence that a crime was committed and that the people who are being accused are the people who committed the crime."

If the prosecutors are satisfied there is sufficient admissible, reliable and credible evidence that a crime has been committed and the accused was responsible, the next step is to decide what action should be taken in the public interest.

That normally involves considering the interests of the victim, the suspect and the wider community.

The nature and gravity of the offence is taken into account along with the impact of the offence and the personal circumstances of the accused.

Asked how long the process might take, Ms Dyer replied: "It's really never possible to say because each case is individual and different and they have to make sure they're doing it to the highest standard.

"It would be absolutely outrageous for a prosecutor to go on a wing and a prayer. That is just not what happens in Scotland.

"We've got very strict rules about the ethics for prosecutors."

The SNP enjoys huge support and is Scotland's largest political party in terms of membership and representation at Westminster and Holyrood.

But Ms Dyer said: "Our whole system in Scotland is predicated on fairness.

"The Lord Advocate is completely independent, as are all the prosecutors that work for her in making these decisions. They will not be influenced. They don't show fear or favour.

"It's solely based on the evidence and then if there is sufficient evidence, is it in the public interest to prosecute? In most cases it will be."

Media caption,

Operation Branchform: A timeline of events in SNP finance probe