Nicola Sturgeon’s husband charged in connection with embezzlement of SNP funds

Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell
Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon’s husband has been charged in connection with embezzlement of funds from the Scottish National Party.

Peter Murrell, the party’s former chief executive, was taken into custody at 9.13am on Thursday morning by detectives investigating the funding and finances of the party.

Police Scotland said he was charged more than nine hours later, at 6.35pm, after further questioning. He was released from police custody, and a report will be sent to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in due course.

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “A 59-year-old man has today, Thursday, April 18 2024, been charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the Scottish National Party.

“The man, who was arrested at 9.13am today and had previously been arrested as a suspect on April 5 2023, was charged at 6.35pm after further questioning by Police Scotland detectives investigating the funding and finances of the party.

“A report will be sent to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in due course. The man is no longer in police custody. As this investigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment further.”

Detectives had 12 hours to question Mr Murrell before they had to charge him, release him or ask a senior officer for a 12-hour extension.

‘Ongoing investigation’

A spokesman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “Senior professional prosecutors from COPFS and an Advocate Depute are working with police on this ongoing investigation.

“It is standard practice that any case regarding politicians is dealt with by prosecutors without the involvement of the Lord Advocate or Solicitor General. All Scotland’s prosecutors act independently of political interference.

“As is routine, to protect the integrity of ongoing investigations we do not comment in detail on their conduct.”

Craig Hoy, the Scottish Conservative chairman, said: “This is an extremely serious development and it’s essential that all SNP staff and politicians, past and present, cooperate fully with Police Scotland.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said: “This is another incredibly concerning development in this long-running investigation. It is essential that Police Scotland is able to proceed with this investigation without interference.”

Keith Brown, the SNP’s deputy leader, told reporters at Holyrood: “I’m not going to comment on an ongoing policy inquiry. It would be wrong to do it.”

An SNP spokesman said: “While this development will come as a shock, the police investigation remains ongoing and it would, therefore, be inappropriate to make any comment.”

It was the second time Mr Murrell has been arrested in connection with the inquiry, following a police raid at the home he shares with Ms Sturgeon just over a year ago. He has barely been seen in public since.

He was the party’s chief executive between 1999 and last March, when he resigned after accepting the blame for the public being misled about the number of SNP members. He married Ms Sturgeon in 2010.

Motorhome confiscated

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.

Supporters made complaints when accounts lodged with Companies House in 2020 showed the SNP only had £97,000 in the bank despite the second referendum never having taken place.

The investigation took a dramatic turn on April 5 last year, when police raided Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell’s home near Glasgow.

Officers searched the home for two days, erecting a large evidence tent, and a luxury motorhome was confiscated from outside the Fife home of Mr Murrell’s elderly mother.

He was also arrested in the raid, which happened the week after Humza Yousaf became First Minister. The following month, Colin Beattie, the party’s then treasurer, was arrested, and then Ms Sturgeon was arrested in June.

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

Last year, Sir Iain Livingtone, Police Scotland’s former chief constable, disclosed that the inquiry had “moved beyond” complaints that the £600,000 had gone missing.

Asked why Operation Branchform was taking so long, he noted that investigations around “fraud”, “potential embezzlement” and “the misuse of funds” take a long time.

But Murray Foote, the SNP’s former communications chief and current chief executive, has called the search of Ms Sturgeon’s home a “grotesque circus” and predicted that no charges would ever be brought.

Senior SNP figures recently called for police to return the confiscated motorhome, arguing that it could be sold to raise funds for the cash-strapped party or used as a battle bus during the forthcoming general election campaign.