Natalie McGarry: From high-flying Westminster career to time in jail 

Ex-SNP MP sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of embezzling money from two pro-independence groups.

Natalie McGarry: From high-flying Westminster career to time in jail Jeff J Mitchell / Staff via Getty Images

Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry has been sentenced to two years in jail after being found guilty of embezzling almost £25,000 from two pro-independence groups.

The sentence, handed down by sheriff Tom Hughes at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Thursday, comes after a jury found her guilty last month.

STV News recaps the full story of McGarry’s remarkable fall from rising star of the independence movement to serving jail time as a convicted criminal.

What was McGarry convicted of in court?

McGarry was on trial for a six-week period over April and May over accusations of embezzling thousands of pounds from two pro-independence groups.

A jury last month found her guilty by majority of a charge of embezzling £19,974 while she was treasurer of Women for Independence (WFI) between April 26, 2013 and November 30, 2015.

She was also found guilty by majority of a second charge of taking £4,661 between April 9, 2014, and August 10, 2015, when she was treasurer, secretary and convener of the Glasgow Regional Association of the SNP.

Sentencing McGarry, Sheriff Tom Hughes said she had betrayed people who put their trust in her and that a custodial sentence was inevitable.

He told her: “It’s quite clear that society has a right to expect the highest standards from those who seek and eventually achieve high public office.”

He added: “Through your role in these offences, you have not only betrayed the trust placed in you by others, but your standards have fallen well short of those the public should have a right to expect from MPs.”

Who testified at the trial?

Over the course of the six-week trial, the court heard from dozens of witnesses, including Scotland’s former health secretary Jeane Freeman, who said she reported McGarry after noticing a significant shortfall in WFI accounts.

Ms Freeman said she had no idea donations made to the group’s independence Crowdfunder were going from the organisation’s PayPal account into McGarry’s personal bank account.

She also voiced her frustrations at McGarry’s delay in handing over receipts and invoices which would show what the funds had been spent on.

The court also heard from witnesses that McGarry had personal financial difficulties and regularly received loans from family and friends.

That included from Humza Yousaf, the current Scottish Health Secretary, who gave McGarry £600 to prevent her from being evicted from her house.

The court also saw McGarry’s bank records, which showed Crowdfunder donations from WFI being transferred to her own personal account.

It included £10,472.52 on April 29, 2014 and a further £9,848.70 on November 12, 2014 – which she used to pay for rent and shopping.

McGarry had said these were “legitimate” expenses which she had incurred and which she was reimbursing herself for.

McGarry’s aunt, former Scottish Parliament presiding officer Tricia Marwick, also appeared as a witness. She told the court her niece would visit her at the Parliament in Edinburgh “once a month to every six weeks”.

There, she said, she would give her niece hundreds of pounds – always in cash.

Mrs Marwick said she could not quantify the total amount gifted between April 2013 and November 2015 “with any great certainty”, but said it was “somewhere between” £3,000 and £5,000.

She said: “I regularly gave Natalie between £300 and £500 when she came to see me.

“I wanted (the money) to be spent on herself and her household bills. When I was a young woman I was just starting out and had no income.”

She told the court she wanted to give McGarry a “helping hand” as an aspiring politician.

Wasn’t this a retrial?

Yes, McGarry previously appeared in court on embezzlement charges in 2018.

She was sentenced to 18 months behind bars in June 2019 at Glasgow Sheriff Court after admitting two charges of embezzling more than £25,000.

Days later she attempted to withdraw her two guilty pleas, however, the sheriff ruled that was not possible.

She began a jail sentence of 18 months before being released days afterwards on bail, pending an appeal.

The conviction was quashed in December 2019, and McGarry was later notified of a fresh prosecution, which has now concluded.

What was McGarry’s role with the SNP?

The 40-year-old represented Glasgow East as an SNP MP from 2015 to 2017.

Before that, McGarry had been an SNP activist and convener of the SNP’s Glasgow Regional Association.

She was also a co-founder of the Women for Independence (WFI) group.

When did suspicions of wrongdoing arise?

In September 2015, WFI alerted police over a “discrepancy” between donation incomes and expenditures.

Serving as the group’s treasurer, McGarry was subsequently charged over the missing money – facing allegations of having transferred cash raised during campaign events into her personal account.

She was also accused of having deposited cheques made out to the campaign group into her own account.

McGarry was elected as an SNP member in 2015 but resigned the party whip after the emergence of fraud allegations – which she denied.

She continued in Parliament as an independent MP representing Glasgow East but did not seek re-election in 2017.

What did her defence say?

At the sentencing on Thursday, defence agent Allan Macleod urged the sheriff to deal with his client as leniently as possible.

He said: “It’s difficult to overstate the significant impact that these offences have had on Ms McGarry’s life.

“In 2015 she was an MP, something that was a lifetime achievement. That has been transformed into a life she could barely have imagined seven years ago.

“The last seven years have been almost intolerable for her. As a consequence of these offences she has been ostracised by her former colleagues, people she was friends with, she lost her seat in parliament.”

He said that to a large degree, McGarry has “withdrawn from life itself” and that her main focus is now on caring for her four-year-old child.

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