Former MSP ‘regrets’ giving blank cheques to ex-MP McGarry

Natalie McGarry, who was an MP between 2015 and 2017, is on trial charged with embezzling £21,000.

Former MSP Carolyn Leckie ‘regrets’ giving blank cheques to embezzlement-accused Natalie McGarry, court told SNS Group

A former MSP has said she regrets giving blank cheques to an ex-SNP MP accused of embezzling thousands from a pro-Scottish independence group.

Carolyn Leckie was speaking at the trial of Natalie McGarry, 40, who is accused of misappropriating more than £25,000 from two campaign groups, including Women For Independence (WFI).

McGarry, who was the MP for Glasgow East between 2015 and 2017, is on trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court charged with embezzling £21,000 between April 26, 2013 and November 30, 2015 while she was treasurer of the organisation.

It is also alleged she cashed cheques held in the name of WFI while managing the group’s finances and transferred money made from fundraising events into her personal accounts.

A second charge accuses her of embezzling £4,661.02 from the Glasgow Regional Association of the SNP between April 9, 2014 and August 10, 2015.

McGarry denies both charges.

Ms Leckie, a former Scottish Socialist Party MSP and one of the founding members of WFI in 2012, was called to give evidence at the trial on Friday.

The 57-year-old confirmed she was a signatory for the group’s accounts and gave McGarry signed blank cheques with the understanding she would transfer donated money for WFI resources, including merchandise.

The court was shown multiple cheques that had been addressed to McGarry and signed by Ms Leckie.

They included sums of £900, £934, £700, £665 and £358 and were dated between December 2014 and April 2015, and were cashed to McGarry, the court heard.

Ms Leckie confirmed her signature on the cheques shown, but when asked if she filled them out she replied: “That’s not my writing.”

She told the court: “With hindsight I regret giving her (McGarry) blank cheques, but I had no reason to believe that she wasn’t using them for WFI.

“I wish I had been far more careful or more suspicious, but I wasn’t.

“I completely trusted Natalie.

“I thought she was competent and coping and it was a relief for me because I had a lot going on at the time.”

Ms Leckie told the court that she and McGarry had become “good friends” when working together at WFI.

She said even in the days before some of the group’s members reported McGarry to Police Scotland over concerns about WFI finances, “I still had a soft spot for Natalie”.

She told the court: “I asked her, ‘have you spent any WFI money on your own expenses?’ And she said no.

“I felt like a fool.

“But she assured me she hadn’t.”

Ms Leckie went on to say she believed McGarry “engineered” their relationship “so that I would give her blank cheques”.

Earlier, the court heard former Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman, who was also a co-founder of WFI, give evidence.

The ex-SNP MSP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley admitted to “losing patience” and getting “pissed off” with McGarry’s communication over the group’s accounts.

When prosecutor Alastair Mitchell asked Ms Leckie if she anticipated issues with McGarry’s role as treasurer, she replied: “There were no alarm bells ringing for me probably not until the time the accounts were being requested by the committee and when Jeane (Freeman) was raising alarm bells.”

The trial, before Sheriff Tom Hughes, continues.

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