Police chief says SNP probe must be free from 'political interference'

Sir Iain Livingstone defended the investigation into the SNP's finances at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority on Thursday.

Police Scotland Chief Constable says SNP finance probe must be free from ‘political interference’ STV News

Police Scotland must “fiercely resist” any political interference in the force’s investigation into the SNP’s finances, the Chief Constable has said.

Sir Iain Livingstone said on Thursday at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority that the investigation was being conducted with “integrity”.

It is his first public comments on the probe, known as Operation Branchform, since it was launched in July 2021 following complaints about how £600,000 of donations for a future independence referendum were used.

The police chief said: “Under Operation Branchform, a dedicated team of officers from Police Scotland’s specialist crime division continue their investigation into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party.

“A diligent, thorough and proportionate criminal inquiry is being conducted with integrity.

“I have previously asserted and will reassert today that I would fiercely resist any attempt to bring political pressure to my decision making or upon any police operation.

“Decisions are and will be based on public safety and the rule of law – not politics or any constitutional position.”

Former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell and former treasurer Colin Beattie were both arrested and released without charge in April, and a luxury motorhome was seized from outside the Dunfermline home of Murrell’s mother.

A forensic tent was erected outside former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s home in Glasgow and officers entered the SNP’s HQ in Edinburgh as police raided several properties as part of the probe.

On Wednesday, the former first minister described the developments as “unexpected and unwelcome”.

Murray Foote, who quit as the SNP’s chief media officer after he was given the wrong information about party membership numbers, described the investigation as a “grotesque spectacle”.

Kenny MacAskill, who served as justice secretary between 2007 and 2014, called for an independent inquiry after it emerged that it took two weeks to grant a warrant for police to search Sturgeon and Murrell’s home.

He said: “I never envisaged that police investigations might be delayed by what appears to be political considerations.”

Sir Iain Livingstone said that “inaccurate assertions and uninformed speculation” could lead to justice being “damaged”.

He added: “I would request, I would urge, all civic leaders – if offering any comment or thoughts on what is a live investigation, to act with prudence and responsibility.

“Wholly inaccurate assertions and uninformed speculation will only serve to damage justice, infringe the rights of individuals and undermine the rule of law.”

The investigation continues.

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