Scotland’s police chief emerges from shadows - but leaves questions unanswered over SNP inquiry

Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell joins patrol in Glasgow
Jo Farrell, the chief constable of Police Scotland, joined a patrol in Glasgow city centre last week - Jane Barlow/PA Wire

It’s very much a welcome development that the “new” chief constable of Police Scotland has finally engaged with the country’s media, in the shape of several interviews.

I use the word new advisedly, which might strike some as strange, since Jo Farrell has been in the job since last October.

But has her eventual emergence given us what most have been waiting for – the final outcome of Operation Branchform, the investigation into the “missing” £660,000 from the SNP’s coffers?

Well, no, not exactly. All Scotland’s eager newshounds got out of her was that a final report from her officers would soon be on the way.

The huge police operation led to Nicola Sturgeon, the former first minister, and Colin Beattie, the former party treasurer, arrested and then freed pending further inquiries nearly a year ago. Peter Murrell, Ms Sturgeon’s husband and the former chief executive of the SNP, has been charged in connection with the alleged embezzlement of SNP funds.

Inquiry nearly three years old

But while Ms Farrell has not exactly made herself known to the people she serves since taking over the job eight months ago, nor has she much else to say about this inquiry which will “celebrate” its third birthday in six weeks time.

When compared to her predecessor, Sir Iain Livingstone, Ms Farrell has been practically invisible.

That’s not to say that he hogged the limelight, but he wasn’t afraid of TV cameras or reporters’ notebooks and was always available when we needed to know what our guardians believed would be the impact of government legislation on their responsibilities.

However, in what could only be termed as a  “blur” of media encounters, when compared with her previous behaviour, the new chief constable did at last have something to say on this subject – telling journalists that her force’s investigation would probably see a report going to Scotland’s prosecuting authority  “in a matter of weeks”.

“It’s a live investigation, a complex investigation and the matter has been progressed, and we expect the report to go to the Crown Office in a matter of weeks.,” she said.

It wasn’t a lot, really, but it is as much as she feels ready to divulge and, so, after three years, and hundreds of detectives, we’re still some way off of finding out what happened to all that Nationalist money.

And Scotland is still awash with rumours about who’s responsible for its disappearance.

Hate crime law still makes headlines

It remains to be seen whether we’ll hear any more from Ms Farrell  as Operation Branchform comes to its end. In the meantime, her force continues to make headlines over its reaction to the SNP’s hate crime law.

In particular, it has been accused of giving in to trans activists in helping educating children to deal with hate crimes.

And Tory MP Murdo Fraser threatened legal action against Police Scotland after the force logged a social media comment he made as a “hate incident”.

Fraser had likened identifying as non-binary to identifying “as a cat” –  comments that led to him being accused by Police Scotland of being guilty of a ‘non crime hate incident’. He’s been told that this a stupid rule is being abandoned but, thus far, it still in operation.

In perhaps the most trenchant views the new chief voiced in recent days, Ms Farrell described Scotland’s judicial system, including the courts and the Crown Office, as being ‘very inefficient’ when compared to the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales.

And she accused courts of wasting her officers’ time by insisting they attend hearings when they’re not really needed.

Such views from a senior police officer, newly promoted from running Britain’s smallest police force – Durham – to become chief constable of its second biggest – Police Scotland – are bound to raise more than a few eyebrows amongst “m’learned friends” at the top of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

On the basis of those remarks, it is to be hoped that we hear much more from Chief Constable Jo Farrell.