By Editor: June 11th, 2023.
Former First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has been arrested in connection with an investigation into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party.
Police confirmed “a 52-year-old woman was taken into custody as a suspect and is being questioned by detectives.”
It follows the arrest and subsequent release of her husband, ex-SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, in April.
A spokeswoman for Ms Sturgeon confirmed she had attended a police interview by arrangement on Sunday.
The former SNP leader, who stood down in March, was then arrested and questioned by officers who have been investigating for the past two years what happened to more than £600,000 of donations given to the party by independence activists.
The spokeswoman said: “Nicola Sturgeon has today, Sunday 11 June, by arrangement with Police Scotland, attended an interview where she was to be arrested and questioned in relation to Operation Branchform.
“Nicola has consistently said she would cooperate with the investigation if asked and continues to do so.”
Officers searched Ms Sturgeon’s home and the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh on 5 April, with Mr Murrell being arrested before later being released without charge pending further investigation.
A luxury motorhome which sells for about £110,000 was also seized by police from outside the home of Mr Murrell’s mother in Dunfermline.
Almost two weeks later, SNP treasurer Colin Beattie was also arrested and released without charge while further inquiries were carried out.
Mr Beattie resigned as party treasurer shortly afterwards.
Ms Sturgeon, Mr Murrell and Mr Beattie were the three signatories on the SNP’s accounts.
She announced on 15 February that she would be standing down as both SNP leader and first minister once a successor was elected, with Humza Yousaf winning the contest to replace her.
Ms Sturgeon said at the time that she knew “in my head and in my heart” that it was the right time to go, and has denied the timing was influenced by the ongoing police investigation.
She was Scotland’s longest-serving first minister and the only woman to have held the position.
A referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom was held in Scotland on 18 September 2014. The referendum question was, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, which voters answered with “Yes” or “No”. The “No” side won with 2,001,926 (55.3%) voting against independence and 1,617,989 (44.7%) voting in favour.
Under Sturgeon the SNP had campaigned for a repeat referendum that would take into account the changed circumstances following Brexit. It is believed that many Scottish voters would prefer for an independent Scotland to rejoin the European Union.
What Happens Next?
Her arrest also means the case is now active for the purposes of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
It means everyone has to be careful about what they say to avoid potentially prejudicing any future trial.
This applies to politicians and members of the public on social media as well as broadcasters and newspapers and the rules around what can and cannot be said about this – or any other – case are interpreted much more strictly in Scotland than in some other parts of the world.
Scotland is not the United States, for example, where pundits merrily speculate about the guilt or innocence of a suspect long before the case goes anywhere near a jury.
Convictions for contempt of court can be punishable by up to two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
Under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016, police can release a suspect for further investigation, but they can be re-arrested at a later date.
Over the coming days and weeks, the force is likely to continue to investigate and gather more evidence. They can also ask for more guidance from COPFS.
If a suspect is charged with a crime, they generally cannot be questioned again by the police although they can make a statement.
Ultimately, the detectives will send what is called a standard prosecution report to COPFS.Prosecutors will then consider whether there is sufficient evidence to suggest a crime was committed and the suspect was responsible.
They will take the public interest into account. That can be influenced by the particular circumstances of the case – for example, whether the person involved was in a position of trust or authority.
If they feel the evidence meets the necessary tests, the case will go to court.
Sources: BBC, Sky News.