Scotland’s top cop insists probe into SNP’s finances is ‘proportionate’ after officers spent two days scouring Nicola Sturgeon’s home and garden – as ex-first minister hits out at ‘unexpected and unwelcome developments’
- Sir Iain Livingstone makes his first public comments on Operation Branchform
Scotland’s top police officer Sir Iain Livingstone today insisted the probe into the SNP’s finances was ‘proportionate’ and being conducted with ‘integrity’.
In his first public comments on Operation Branchform, Sir Iain stressed the investigation ‘must be allowed to progress without any form of political interference’.
Last month, police spent two days scouring the home of ex-SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, the party’s former chief executive.
A blue forensic tent was erected outside the couple’s Glasgow property and officers were spotted searching both inside the house and outside in the garden.
The extensive search saw items placed into forensic bags, photographs taken of garden tools, and storage boxes peered through.
It followed the dramatic arrest of Mr Murrell, who has since been released without charge pending further investigation.
Colin Beattie, the SNP’s then treasurer, was arrested two weeks later. He stood down from his party role after also being released without charge.
Ms Sturgeon this week admitted there had been ‘unexpected and unwelcome developments’ since she departed as SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister in March.
Sir Iain Livingstone, the chief constable of Police Scotland, commented on the SNP investigation this morning at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority’s board
Nicola Sturgeon this week admitted there had been ‘unexpected and unwelcome developments’ since she departed as SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister in March
Last month, police spent two days scouring the Glasgow home of Ms Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, the party’s former chief executive
Police Scotland’s probe, opened in July 2021, centres on the spending of about £600,000 in donations, which was earmarked for Scottish independence campaigning.
Sir Iain, the chief constable of Police Scotland, mentioned the investigation this morning at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority’s board.
‘Police investigations must be allowed to progress without any form of political interference,’ he said.
‘Under Operation Branchform, a dedicated team of officers from Police Scotland’s specialist crime division continue their investigation into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party.
‘A diligent, thorough and proportionate criminal inquiry is being conducted with integrity.
‘Two individuals have been arrested and subsequently released without charge, pending further investigation, investigations which continue.’
Sir Iain urged against ‘uninformed speculation’ that could undermine his officers’ work.
‘I would request, I would urge, all civic leaders – if offering any comment or thoughts on what is a live investigation, to act with prudence and responsibility,’ he added.
‘Wholly inaccurate assertions and uninformed speculation will only serve to damage justice, infringe the rights of individuals and undermine the rule of law.’
Police were seen scouring Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell’s garden during their two-day search of the property
It recently emerged police had to wait two weeks before they were given permission to search the home of Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell.
According to a freedom of information request, a request for a search warrant was sent to the Crown Office on March 20 – in the midst of the SNP leadership election to choose Ms Sturgeon’s successor – but was not green-lit and sent to a sheriff until April 3, the week after the contest concluded.
Both the Crown and First Minister Humza Yousaf – the eventual winner of the race to replace Ms Sturgeon – have stressed that prosecutors act free from political interference.
In her first column for the Glasgow Times newspaper since resigning as first minister, Ms Sturgeon wrote yesterday: ‘When I decided to step down from the government, I knew that I faced a period of adaptation.
‘Being a senior government minister involves almost every minute of every working day being accounted for by meetings, engagements, briefing papers and questions in Parliament.
‘To go from 16 years of that to being a backbencher – still an incredibly busy job but without the weight of government responsibility – was always going to be a difficult transition.
‘And, of course, since I stepped down, there have been unexpected and unwelcome developments that I am not able to expand upon here, but which have made this period even more challenging.
‘However, in spite of that, I am enjoying the new perspective and different focus that comes with no longer being first minister.’
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