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Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry jailed for two years

Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry jailed for two years

Former SNP politician Natalie McGarry has been jailed for two years after embezzling more than £24,600 from two pro-Scottish independence groups.

McGarry, 41, spent the money on rent, takeaways, grocery shopping as well as a holiday to Spain.

The former Glasgow East MP embezzled the cash despite receiving money from friends, family and colleagues.

She even received a loan from health secretary Humza Yousaf in order to pay her rent in 2014.

McGarry complained about being "skint" despite her £67,000 a year salary topped up with handouts from family including aunt former presiding officer Tricia Marwick.

The mum-of-one was caught following a financial probe into an independence group where she was treasurer.

McGarry was convicted in May of embezzling £19,974 while treasurer for Women for Independence (WFI) between April 26, 2013 and November 30, 2015.

McGarry also took £4,661 between April 9, 2014 and August 10, 2015 when she was Treasurer, Secretary and Convenor of Glasgow Regional Association (GRA) of the SNP. 

Jailing her, sheriff Tom Hughes said: "It’s quite clear that society expects the highest standards for those who seek and achieve high public office.

"You were a role model for aspiring politicians and you became an MP.

"By your involvement in these offences, you have not only betrayed the trust placed in you by others but your standards have fallen well short of what the public have the right to expect from politicians and MPs.

"Because the serious nature of the offences, a prison sentence is unfortunately necessary as no other sentence is appropriate.

"The sentence has to reflect the serious nature of the offences and the prolonged period over they took place and your blatant breach of trust placed in you by others."

McGarry showed no emotion after she was led to the cells.

McGarry - formerly of Clarkston, East Renfrewshire - had "categorically" denied the two charges at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

She had earlier pled guilty to similar charges in 2019 and was sentenced to 18 months.

But her attempts to withdraw her guilty plea failed and a later appeal was upheld by judges.

She was then re-indicted by the Crown and stood trial for the last six weeks.

The court heard McGarry helped found WFI in 2012 with former Health Secretary Jeane Freeman and ex-MSP Carolyn Leckie.

McGarry became treasurer of the organisation whose PayPal funds entered her personal bank account.

WFI raised more than £27,700 from three online crowd funders between April and November 2014.

A "distressed" McGarry was loaned money meantime from  Yousaf who heard that she was going to be evicted that day.

He said in evidence: "There was a reason her and her partner didn’t have access to the funds.

"I offered to give her a loan of funds about the £600 mark from the bank across the road.

"I made the transaction and the money was returned roughly in the timescale."

McGarry remained in control of WFI finances as more money from further fundraisers and a donate button continued to fill her bank account.

The jury was shown a bank statement in which McGarry's personal account had a balance of £10.74 - later topped up by a PayPal transfer of £1,700.

A £1,000 rent payment was then seen to come off the account the following day.

WFI also footed the bill for part of McGarry's five-year Amigo Loan of £5,000 as well as her Tesco and Asda trips and purchases on Just Eat.

McGarry who had "no regular income" also went on holiday with partner Mr Meikle to Spain with another couple during this time period.

McGarry transferred £1,140 from her bank account on September 1, 2014 to Mr Meikle who had purchased flights and car hire two days before for £1,035.92.

Prosecutor Alistair Mitchell said to the jury in his closing speech: "The extravagance doesn't matter, she took it dishonestly, it doesn't matter if it was £20 or £20,000.

"Evidence was showing money was being used from WFI for purchases of that sort."

Jurors were told McGarry also failed to pay charity Positive Prisons Positive Futures £360 from a WFI bucket collection and a similar collection for a Perth foodbank was also not handed over.

McGarry continued her WFI treasurer role even when she became an MP in spring 2015.

Her constituency office manager Rachel Mackie recalled: “She made a fortune, she was on a good salary and her partner was a councillor, she would be in the office complaining about being skint all the time.”

McGarry was meantime treasurer and convenor of the GRA where she was in sole control of the finances.

McGarry was seen to make cheques out to herself - one notably for £2,000 to pay for media training for election candidates which the company did not receive.

She also kept refunds from parliamentary expenses body IPSA including £600 for a constituency office survey and a £500 election deposit.

McGarry meantime paid the survey firm and Shettleston SNP from the GRA purse.

McGarry had been handed pre-signed blank cheques to make such payments as well as others out to cash.

A WFI colleague stated to the jury that McGarry's financial report at a 2015 AGM was "gobbledygook" and "not up to scratch."

An overall total of £66,029 was put into her account from WFI sources.

A WFI financial probe in late 2015 discovered an income and expenditure gap of £31,824 and the matter was reported to the police.

McGarry has only paid back £6,436.21 on September 2015 which was funded by a £6,500 loan from a friend.

McGarry's house was raided by officers in May 2016 where a warrant was read through a door to McGarry who "took refuge" in her bathroom.

She "categorically" denied wrongdoing during her six-days of evidence.

McGarry stated that she was "overwhelmed" with doing the "donkey work" for WFI.

She added that the money she had spent was for reimbursements for earlier payments she had personally made for WFI and the GRA.

McGarry sobbed in the witness box when she said: "It’s been the most hellish experience I can possibly imagine.

“Having my whole life ripped apart when I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

Her defence counsel Allan MacLeod told the sentencing: "It is difficult to overstate the impact these offences had on her life.

"In 2015, she was an MP, something of a lifetime ambition which has turned to a life she could barely have imagined in 2015.

"She said the last seven years have been almost intolerable for her and the consequence is she is she has been ostracised by former colleagues and people she was friends with and lost her job at parliament." 

A Proceeds of Crime hearing to recoup the cash will take place in August.

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