What we know so far as Nicola Sturgeon's husband charged over embezzlement of SNP funds

The investigation has led to the arrests of three key SNP figures - two years on the inquiry continues.

What we know so far as Nicola Sturgeon’s husband charged over embezzlement of SNP funds STV News

On Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell was re-arrested and charged as part of the police investigation into the SNP’s finances.

The former SNP chief executive was taken into custody and questioned by detectives for hours before being charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds and released.

The charge comes just over a year after Police Scotland officers searched the couple’s home and erected a blue tent outside the property, as well as carrying out searches at the SNP’s Edinburgh HQ.

On April 5, 2023, officers first arrested Nicola Sturgeon’s husband – who was the party’s chief executive for 22 years – before launching a search on the couple’s home in Uddingston as well as the party’s HQ in Edinburgh.

The news that the former first minister’s home was subject to a raid, with police tape stretched around the property and large tents erected in the garden, made headlines throughout the UK.

Humza Yousaf had been First Minister for a little over a week, having won the SNP leadership contest at the end of March.

It wouldn’t be the end though, with Sturgeon herself being arrested in June. That was the third arrest of a party official, following the arrest of treasurer Colin Beattie in April. All were released without charge.

Those arrests came nearly a year after Operation Branchform was launched.

Operation Branchform Timeline

March 2021 – Sturgeon dismisses concerns over SNP finances

Leaked video shows Sturgeon dismissing concerns over SNP finances

A leaked video appears to show Nicola Sturgeon playing down concerns about the SNP’s finances during a virtual meeting of the party’s ruling body on March 20, 2021.

The meeting was held just months before Police Scotland began its investigation – named Operation Branchform – into the party’s funding and finances.

The former SNP leader is filmed telling members that the party’s finances have “never been stronger”.

May 2021 – MP quits party finance role

Douglas Chapman, MP for Dunfermline and West Fife.

Douglas Chapman resigned from his role as SNP treasurer, saying he had not been given enough information to do his job.

Senior figures in the party, including Sturgeon, later disputed his assessment.

Joanna Cherry, a vocal, internal critic of the party’s leadership, also resigned from her role on the National Executive Committee (NEC).

July 2021 – Police open investigation

Two months later, Police Scotland confirmed it was investigating after seven complaints were made around donations to the SNP.

This followed allegations that £600,000 raised for campaigning towards Scottish independence was diverted elsewhere.

Police Scotland began its investigation into the SNP over £600,000 in funds earmarked for a second independence campaign.iStock

Earlier, the police said they were assessing a fraud allegation relating to £600,000 of funds “to determine if an investigation is required”.

The party said, “all sums raised for independence campaigning will be spent on independence campaigning”.

August 2021 – Party accounts acknowledge ‘concern’

As the party’s annual accounts were published, then-treasurer Colin Beattie acknowledged there had been “concern” about transparency over independence-related appeals that had raised more than £600,000.

In a section of the accounts, he discussed money raised by the referendum-related appeals since 2017.

He said that £666,953 had been raised up to the end of 2021, with a total of £51,760 expenditure applied to this income.

The money was “earmarked” through internal processes, he said, though the accounts did not officially record a separate sum.

December 2022 – Loan to SNP emerges

In December, it emerged that then-chief executive Murrell had loaned the party £100,000 in June 2021.

The SNP said this was to help with a “cash flow” issue after the election that year.

Sturgeon said: “The resources that he lent the party were resources that belonged to him.”

February 2023 – Nicola Sturgeon resigns

Sturgeon stunned the political world by suddenly announcing her resignation on February 15.

She said the reason for her quitting wasn’t due to short-term pressures but because she knew in her “head and heart” that the time was right to go.

Nicola Sturgeon resigns as First Minister of Scotland

During her Bute House press conference, she was asked if she expected to be interviewed in relation to the investigation. She said she did not.

March 2023 – Peter Murrell resigns

Then-SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.Getty Images

Amid the SNP leadership contest to replace Sturgeon, Murrell announced he was stepping down as the party’s chief executive after more than 20 years in the role.

It came during a row over the party’s membership numbers, which also led to media chief Murray Foote stepping down.

Membership numbers had dropped by about 30,000 in the past year, something the party previously denied.

April 2023 – Peter Murrell arrested as police search premises

Murrell was arrested on the morning of Wednesday, April 5.

There was a large police presence around his home in Glasgow as well as the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh.

He was released without charge, pending further investigation, the same day.

But the memory has stayed with those in the party as pictures of a tent and police tape outside the home of two of the party’s most high-profile members were shown across the news.

Police Scotland were seen taking several large boxes from the SNP's HQ in Edinburgh on the day the party's former chief executive was arrested.Getty Images

April 2023 – Campervan seized

On April 9, a luxury campervan, thought to be worth about £110,000, was seized by police investigating the party’s finances.

The motorhome seized amid a probe into the SNP’s finances.David Cardwell

April 2023 – Treasurer Colin Beattie arrested

On April 18, party treasurer Beattie was arrested and interviewed by police before being released.

His role was to oversee the party’s finances.

SNP MSP Colin Beattie resigned as party treasurer after he was arrested and released by police.Getty Images

April 2023 – SNP appoints new treasurer

Stuart McDonald was appointed as the SNP’s new treasurer on April 22 after Beattie stood down with “immediate effect” following his arrest.

The 44-year-old MP, who represents Cumbernauld, Kirkintilloch and Kilsyth, admitted it would be a “difficult and challenging time” for the party.

Questioned by journalists after stepping down, Beattie insisted the SNP was financially “in the black” but said the party was a “going concern”.

May 2023 – SNP appoints new auditor

Humza Yousaf promises more transparency over party finances

The party appointed the AMS Accountant Group on May 3 2023, after its previous auditor, Johnston Carmichael, stood down in September 2022.

Humza Yousaf said he only found out about the previous accountants stepping done after he became leader in March 2023.

There were concerns that the party could miss the deadline to publish its accounts which could have seen the Westminster group miss out on £1.2m worth of funding.

But the SNP managed to file in time.

June 2023 – Nicola Sturgeon arrested

Former first minister and SNP leader Sturgeon was arrested on June 11.

She “voluntarily” arranged with Police Scotland to be questioned as part of the investigation into the party’s finances, a spokesperson said.

The arrest of Nicola Sturgeon and the search of her home sparked a large media presence outside her home in Uddingston.Getty Images

Like the other party figures, she was released without charge pending further investigation.

Upon returning to Holyrood, she said: “The thing that sustains me right now is the certainty that I have done nothing wrong.”

July 2023 – Sir Iain Livingstone says probe has ‘moved beyond’ initial reports

Police Scotland’s then-chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone gave an interview shortly before stepping down from his role.

He confirmed the police investigation, known as Operation Branchform, had “moved beyond what some of the initial reports were”, saying this is not uncommon in financial inquiries.

Livingstone said he would not put an “absolute timeframe” on the length of the investigation but that it would be “proportionate and timeous”.

“Investigations around fraud or potential embezzlement or investigations around the misuse of funds take time,” he said.

“You need to go and obtain information from banks and other institutions.

“We can’t just do that automatically. We need to seek judicial warrants for that, there needs to be a process around that.”

August 2023 – Sir Iain Livingstone says the sooner the probe is done the better

The outgoing chief constable spoke to the BBC in August 2023, saying police are “duty bound” to investigate matters reported to them.

He said: “Our action and our investigation is in the interests of everybody involved because it will clarify facts and deal with evidence and facts as opposed to rumour and innuendo.

“So the sooner this investigation is concluded, the better for everyone involved.”

Former Police Scotland chief constable Iain Livingstone said the sooner the SNP probe is over the better.Getty Images

October 2023 – Finances probe a factor in by-election loss

Following the SNP’s defeat in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, Humza Yousaf said the investigation into the party’s finances – along with the “reckless” actions of recalled former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier – played a part in the result.

He said the party would “regroup” and come back stronger.

January 2024 – Investigation has affected how public views party, Yousaf says

Speaking to a BBC Radio 4 podcast, Yousaf said the police investigation into SNP finances has “clearly” affected the public perception of the party.

He said the inquiry has been “one of the most difficult times” for the SNP and that he must work hard to rebuild trust.

Later, Professor Sir John Curtice said Operation Branchform has also impeded the party’s ability to raise money ahead of the general election expected this year.

April 2024 – Peter Murrell charged with ’embezzlement’

Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell has been charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the SNP.

Police Scotland said the 59-year-old was taken into custody at 9.13am and was questioned by detectives in connection with the ongoing investigation into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party.

Shortly before 7.30pm, police confirmed that Murrell had been charged and a report would be sent to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

The former SNP chief executive was being held at Falkirk Police Station but was released from custody shortly after 7pm.

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