Humza Yousaf ‘shocked’ by embezzlement charges against Peter Murrell

<span>Police Scotland announced on Thursday that Peter Murrell had been charged with embezzlement of SNP funds.</span><span>Photograph: Robert Perry/PA</span>
Police Scotland announced on Thursday that Peter Murrell had been charged with embezzlement of SNP funds.Photograph: Robert Perry/PA

Humza Yousaf has said he is shocked by the embezzlement charges levelled against Peter Murrell, the former chief executive of the Scottish National party.

Police Scotland announced on Thursday evening that Murrell, who is married to Yousaf’s mentor and predecessor as first minister Nicola Sturgeon, had been rearrested and charged with embezzlement of SNP funds.

Murrell, 59, who was released after spending more than nine hours in custody on Thursday, has not commented on the investigation or the allegations since first being arrested as a suspect on 5 April last year. It emerged, however, he has resigned as an SNP member.

Police Scotland said a full report would be sent to prosecutors at the Crown Office for consideration.

Yousaf on Friday described it as “a serious development. [An] allegation of embezzlement from and of party funds, that’s a very serious and concerning matter. And all of those people who have known Peter Murrell for a number of years within the SNP and indeed across Scottish politics will be shocked.

“This will be a shock to many people, including myself.”

Speaking to the media outside her home in Glasgow on Friday, Sturgeon said the situation has been “incredibly difficult” before asking for peace for her neighbours as she left by car.

The first minister, who is also SNP leader, said he first became aware of the charges when the police announced them publicly on Thursday evening. “We have to allow the police and indeed the crown to do their job.”

The charges against Murrell follow a police investigation code named Operation Branchform launched nearly three years ago into complaints that the SNP had mishandled about £660,000 in donations towards an independence referendum fighting fund.

Those donations were not separately listed in the party’s accounts. Murrell and Sturgeon insisted the money had been fully and properly accounted for internally.

Sturgeon was also arrested in June 2023 and questioned as a suspect after agreeing by arrangement to a police interview. She was later released without charge, as was Colin Beattie, the then party treasurer, who was arrested at his home in Midlothian in mid-April 2023.

She grappled with a wider dispute within the SNP over the party’s accounts after several members of its finance committee stood down, to be followed by its then party treasurer Douglas Chapman.

Sturgeon has repeatedly protested her innocence of any wrongdoing. Speaking at the Edinburgh festival fringe in August she said the police investigation, which included the raid and search of her home in Glasgow, had been “traumatic”.

She added: “My touchstone all along is that I’m confident in my own position and I’m absolutely certain I’ve done nothing wrong. Therefore I need to and do trust in the process.”

Yousaf added that he hoped the controversy would not dent support for the SNP as it heads into the next general election.

He said as first minister he was focused on supporting households with the cost of living crisis, cutting hospital waiting times, helping businesses and advancing the case for independence.

“I certainly hope, but I’m not ever complacent about this, that [people] will still continue to trust us because of the record of delivery,” he said.

“That record of delivery will see 100,000 children lifted out of poverty, it is estimated, this year. It’s a record that has seen a record number of young people go to university from areas of highest deprivation.

“It’s a record this year that people were benefiting from a national council tax freeze. That’s the kind of thing I hoped we are judged on, that effects and impacts people every day of the week.”