Natalie McGarry’s sentence fits the seriousness of the crime, a lawyer has said.
The ex SNP MP has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for embezzling more than £25,000 from pro-independence campaign groups.
Speaking on Scotland Tonight, advocate Edith Forrest said McGarry could perhaps serve a quarter of her sentence.
Sheriff Crozier’s ruling has been met by a mixed reaction, with some believing it to be unduly harsh and aimed at making an example of the former politician, who ceased to be an MP in 2017.
Forrest disputed this and argued that it could be said “the sentence was somewhat more lenient because of who she [McGarry] was”.
The lawyer was in discussion with Shona Craven, a journalist from The National newspaper, and presenter Gordon Chree.
Here is an edited transcript of their analysis.
Gordon Chree: 18 months in jail, is that a fair punishment?
Edith Forrest: My answer to that is yes, it is. It’s in line with the sentencing powers of the sheriff, the sheriff not only set out his reasoning for that decision, but he also set out the procedural history for the case as well. I would say that it is. And despite the fact that Ms McGarry was an MP, it is the sort of sentence that anyone who is prepared to embezzle, such a sum of money, could expect from this criminal justice system.
Gordon: What are your concerns about the sentence?
Shona Craven: It’s been met with a degree of surprise. There are two factors. The fact that she has a young child. And in the grand scheme of embezzling, perhaps the sum doesn’t seem very high. When you read the sheriff’s sentencing remarks, he really emphasises the nature of the organisations from which the money was embezzled, including a foodbank charity, that was one of the organisations. And also the period over which it happened. So while the sum may not seem that big, this went on for a long time. She stood for Westminster while she was doing this. The lack of remorse really comes across as a factor in the sentence.
Gordon: She’s not been an MP since the election in 2017, but was she made an example of because of who she once was?
Edith: I don’t think so. I think the sentence is at a level, which anyone engaging in that kind of criminality could expect. If anything perhaps, it could be said that the sentence was somewhat more lenient because of who she was. I think the level…the sheriff has concluded and has pitched the sentence at, is commensurate with all the factors he has taken into account. In particular the seriousness of the crime and, as has been said, the nature of the bodies that were affected by the crime itself.
Gordon: It’s been called embezzlement, but it’s really a posh word for stealing. £25,000, some of it meant for foodbanks. That is a low crime isn’t it?
Shona: A lot of people are upset about it happening. They can’t understand how the person they knew could do that. And certainly from Women for Independence, there is this feeling of real regret that this happened, but without a push for ‘she must punished’, that is reflected in this sentence. So it’s interesting that Women For Independence have campaigned for better treatment of women in the criminal justice system.
Gordon: If she was given a community payback order, from the sheriff’s point of view, if she had treated the process with a bit more respect than she did, did that work against her?
Edith: I think it’s a very unusual situation. She clearly has had, from what I’ve read and what is in the public domain, legal representation throughout the process. And so, the sheriff has treated her as having pled guilty in circumstances where she had legal input and awareness of what she was doing. He articulated that specifically at the start of his sentencing statement. So it is difficult because, she is now continuing to maintain that she is not guilty, albeit she had pled guilty, it would have been be very difficult for her counsel in mitigation to make any real comments about things that sheriffs look for, like remorse, insight into the offence itself, because her position is that, ‘I didn’t do it’. So she’s also restricted what was able to be said on her behalf in mitigation, in order to keep the sentence as low as possible.
Gordon: What sentence will she realistically do in prison?
Edith: Perhaps a quarter of that. And again, sometimes people would be released on a tag or something like that, but she’s probably not the sort of candidate that would require further observations of that sort, so perhaps a quarter of her sentence.
Gordon: So is it the case in which she might appeal her sentence?
Edith: By the sounds of things, that she has continued to say that she’s not accepting the offences, I expect she will appeal her conviction, as she is legally entitled to do. So I suspect the case will continue proceduralLy for some time.