Ex-SNP MP McGarry has conviction appeal over 'tweet tsunami' thrown out

The former SNP MP had the length of her conviction reduced, but an appeal over 'problematic' Twitter posts was denied.

Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry has conviction appeal over ‘tsunami of tweets’ thrown out Getty Images

Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry has failed to convince appeal judges that social media posts prevented her from receiving a fair trial on embezzlement charges. 

The 41-year-old politician was notified on Wednesday that her bid to have her convictions quashed had failed. 

Lawyers for McGarry told the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh last week that messages on Twitter prevented his client from receiving a fair trial. 

Advocate Gordon Jackson KC told judges Lady Dorrian, Lord Pentland and Lord Matthews that Twitter posts presented a “real problem” for the Scottish justice system.

Mr Jackson said that McGarry, who once sat as MP for Glasgow East,  was the subject of a “tsunami” of tweets just before the start of her trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court last year. 

The advocate told judges Lady Dorrian, Lord Pentland and Lord Matthews that the content was “nasty” and made allegations that she got pregnant in order to avoid being sent to jail. 

The tweets also made reference to how Ms McGarry had previously pleaded guilty to the embezzlement charges but made no reference to why appeal judges ordered a retrial. 

Mr Jackson said the tweets meant that jurors who sat in his client’s case had been prejudiced by their content and would have been unable to return fair verdicts. 

However, in a written judgment published by the court on Thursday, Lady Dorrian and her colleagues dismissed the appeal and concluded that McGarry received a fair trial. 

The judges concluded that legal safeguards meant that jurors considered only the evidence presented them to court. 

Lady Dorrian, who gave the judgment, compared the posts on Twitter to the equivalent of “tittle tattle” at the bus stop or pub. 

Writing about the instructions Sheriff Tom Hughes gave to jurors during the trial, Lady Dorrian wrote: “He repeatedly told the jury (at least five times) that they required to reach their verdict on the evidence led in court and without regard to any other source. 

“Throughout the course of the trial he returned to this issue, regularly reminding the jury of their obligations in this respect, and of the need to take account only of evidence laid before them in court during the course of the trial.

“These were thorough and careful directions, making the position abundantly clear, and there is no basis for thinking that the jury did not follow them. 

“Allied to the fact that jurors can be taken to follow the instructions given to them, particularly on an issue which is so straightforward, is a further factor of relevance in the difference between mainstream publications or news agencies and social media. 

“Unlike the former the latter operate without editorial control, frequently in an irresponsible manner and usually unaccountable to others, unless in extreme cases they may be traced and prosecuted for contempt. 

“They do not represent what is commonly understood by the word ‘journalism’.

“They are not designed, and frequently do not even purport to be, fair and accurate reports of proceedings. They are in many respects the modern-day equivalent of gossip and tittle-tattle at the bus stop or the pub. 

“As adults with a collective intelligence and common sense, jurors know and understand this.

“The appeal against conviction is refused.”

McGarry was given a two-year prison sentence in July 2022 after being found guilty of stealing £19,974 while treasurer of the pro indie group Women For Independence.

McGarry, who served as MP for the Glasgow East constituency between 2015 and 2017, was also convicted of pocketing £4,661 when she was treasurer and convener of the SNP’s Glasgow Regional Association.

The court heard that McGarry spent some of the money on expenses such as rent and shopping.

Her legal team admitted that her finances were “disorganised” and “chaotic”.

Passing sentence, Sheriff Hughes told the Aberdeen University graduate she had betrayed people who put their trust in her.

At proceedings last week, Mr Jackson told the appeal judges that Sheriff Hughes – who presided over McGarry’s trial – should have granted her lawyer’s request to abandon proceedings when he was made aware of the tweets.

Mr Jackson said: “At the time the jury were empanelled, there was a Tsunami of tweets made about Ms McGarry. These were nasty, personal and focused on attacking her. 

“We can see the language in these tweets – she is described as being a ‘ mindblowing moron’… ‘she got away with it on a technicality’.

“The Crown say it is of a minor prejudice. But I say that it is not the case. I say it is of a serious prejudice. 

“We say that the sheriff erred in not acceding to the submission to desert the trial. We say that the sheriff should have deserted proceedings when he was made aware of the tweets.”

Mr Jackson also urged the court to cut Ms McGarry’s sentence as he believed it was too lengthy given the circumstances surrounding her conviction. 

Prosecutor Alex Prentice KC urged the appeal judges to reject Mr Jackson’s submissions. 

He said that Sheriff Hughes had warned jurors to try Ms McGarry solely on the evidence presented to them in court and that this was a sufficient safeguard. 

Mr Prentice said the verdicts returned by the jury showed that they had tried Ms McGarry solely on the evidence presented to them. 

In the judgment published on Thursday, the judges agreed to reduce McGarry’s prison sentence from two years to 20 months. 

Lady Dorrian added: “It seems that the sheriff took this into account in reaching the sentence which he selected, leading him to impose a sentence which may properly be described as excessive.”

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