RIVALS wanted to know why prosecutors only authorized a search of Nicola Sturgeon’s home after the race for leadership of the Nats ended.
The Tories and Labor questioned a two-week gap between search warrants from investigators investigating allegations of fraud within the SNP and a sheriff issuing the search warrants.
That meant Humza Yousaf was already in place as the new First Minister when police rushed the block his predecessor shares with her husband – former party chief Peter Murrell – and the SNP headquarters.
A police source claimed that in cases where there could be “significant political ramifications,” “this would be considered.”
The revelation is likely to spark speculation as to whether the operations, including Mr Murrell’s arrest, may have been delayed by authorities until after the leadership contest – an assumption the Crown Office disputes.
However, Scottish Conservative MP Russell Findlay said: “Given the apparent sensitivity regarding alleged fraud involving the ruling party and the former First Minister’s husband, it is vital that any questions about timetables and procedures are made clear to the public. “
Jackie Baillie of the Scottish Labor Party cited fears of a possible conflict of interest as the Head of the Crown Office, Lord Advocate – currently Dorothy Bain KC – is also a Minister and a member of the Scottish Cabinet and advises on legal matters.
She added: “This is a very interesting revelation that will cause quite a stir across Scotland.
“While I accept that the Lord Advocate may not have had a direct say in timing, this story underscores why we need to have a serious discussion about separating the role of Lord Advocate to ensure that there is never a perception of a conflict of interest. “
Details obtained by The Scottish Sun show that on Monday March 20 Scotland Police asked the Crown Office – which is overseeing the police investigation – for search warrants into the two raids.
This date marked the beginning of the last full week of the SNP leadership battle. The competition ended seven days later, on Monday March 27, when Mr. Yousaf narrowly defeated Kate Forbes. He officially replaced Ms. Sturgeon the next day.
The Crown Office approved the police request on Monday April 3 after Mr Yousaf named his new ministers.
Police officers then raided Ms Sturgeon’s home and SNP headquarters early Wednesday, April 5. The search warrants reportedly included a list of items seized during searches.
A police response to a freedom of information request confirmed “search warrant requests were made on March 20, 2023.” It added that a sheriff granted them “on April 3, 2023.”
The two-week wait for warrants
- Wednesday February 15th – Nicola Sturgeon announces her retirement, sparking a race for leadership that ends later this week and ends March 28.
- Saturday March 19th – SNP chief executive and husband of Nicola Sturgeon, Peter Murrell, resigns amid backlash over his SNP headquarters’ release of questionable membership numbers to the media.
- Monday, March 20th – Scottish Police are applying to the Crown Office to search the home of Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell and the SNP headquarters.
- Monday, March 27th – SNP leadership contest ends and Humza Yousaf – backed by Sturgeon hierarchy – is announced as the winner in the 52/48 final round against runner-up Kate Forbes.
- Tuesday, March 28th – Ms Sturgeon is stepping down as First Secretary and will be formally replaced by Mr Yousaf. He spends the next few days forming his new government.
- Thursday March 30th – Mr Yoyusaf’s first FMQs followed by Holyrood which ends in the Easter break.
- Monday April 3rd – The Crown Office approves the final warrant, which will be presented to the court and approved by a sheriff later that day.
- Wednesday April 5th – Police raid Mrs Sturgeon’s Glasgow marital home, arrest husband Peter Murrell and conduct searches. They also raid the SNP headquarters in Edinburgh and impound a luxury motor home in Mr Murrell’s elderly mother’s driveway in Dunfermline.
Despite the gap, the crown is not expected to accept any delay. However, a police source unrelated to the investigation said cases are being considered involving “high-level individuals” or where serious political ramifications are possible.
The details came to light after a debate over whether there was a conflict over the roles of Ms Bain and her No. 2, Attorney General Ruth Chateris KC, who is also a minister.
Former SNP Attorney General Kenny MacAskill called for a split of positions.
But the Crown says the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General are not involved in the SNP fraud case.
Specifically, we asked why it took prosecutors two weeks to approve police requests for warrants. whether there have been any significant changes between the draft submitted by the police and the version sent to the court on April 3; and if the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General knew that arrest warrants had been requested in the final week of the SNP campaign.
The Crown said: “It is standard for any case involving politicians to be dealt with by prosecutors without the involvement of the Lord Advocate or Solicitor General. We will continue to work with the police in this ongoing investigation.”
We also asked Police Scotland whether there had been any significant changes to their draft warrant and whether the two-week wait was typical of investigations of this nature. They said: “As the investigation is ongoing we are unable to comment further.”
Mr. Murrell was arrested on April 3, interrogated and released without charge pending further investigation. The same happened on April 18 to former SNP party treasurer and MSP Colin Beattie.
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