Nicola Sturgeon: I was wrong to ask fraudster be spared jail. Sorry

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NICOLA Sturgeon yesterday apologised to parliament and admitted that she was "wrong" to suggest that a serial fraudster could be spared a jail sentence.

• Alex Salmond looks on as Nicola Sturgeon apologises to Holyrood yesterday. Picture: Dan Phillips

The Deputy First Minister acknowledged that her judgment had been found wanting, when she stood up at Holyrood to answer questions about her dealings with a benefits cheat who defrauded 80,000 from the UK government.

Ms Sturgeon was accused of a grave error of judgment and faced calls for her resignation when it emerged that she wrote a letter to Glasgow Sheriff Court on behalf of her constituent Abdul Rauf.

In a contrite statement to MSPs, Ms Sturgeon admitted that she was wrong to ask the court to "consider" alternatives to custody before the sentencing of Rauf for defrauding the Department of Work and Pensions.

She wrote the letter even though she knew Rauf, 59, had previously been given a four-year sentence for stealing 58,624 in pension and benefit payments in 1996.

Ms Sturgeon defended her right to support a constituent saying that she had a "duty" to make representations as long as they were "reasonable, legitimate and appropriate".

Where she had gone wrong, however, was in asking the court to consider alternatives to custody.

"On reflection," she said. "That was a request more suited to my former occupation as a solicitor than to my current job as an MSP.

"So I can and do understand why some people think that making such a request went too far."

Ms Sturgeon also regretted describing Rauf's fraud offence as a "mistake" in her letter, saying it was not her intention to downplay the seriousness of the crime.

The letter also pointed out that Rauf, a father or five, suffered from heart problems, had young children and was heavily involved in community work.

"I assisted a constituent in good faith and for what I considered the right reasons, but in doing so I did get some things wrong and for that I am sorry," she said.

"With hindsight, I think I allowed myself to be too influenced by the likely impact of Mr Rauf's actions on his family."

Ms Sturgeon's contrition contrasted with the approach taken by Alex Salmond when he came to her defence two weeks ago.

The First Minister claimed MSPs had an "absolute obligation" to represent constituents – a remark that was disputed by his opponents. Ms Sturgeon appeared to suggest that a more considered approach from Mr Salmond would have been more constructive.

She wondered whether there should be a "more general willingness" to reflect on honest mistakes, suggesting that such an approach would be "much better for our politics than the instant judgment that all of us, me included, so often rush to".

The Labour leader, Iain Gray, criticised the First Minister's assertion that there was an "absolute obligation" to write the letter.

He said: "Ms Sturgeon's statement today makes it clear that, on reflection, she knows the First Minister was wrong."

Conservative leader Annabel Goldie criticised the First Minister for "bluster" and "defiance" on the issue.

She added: "What a welcome and sharply contrasting approach by Nicola Sturgeon today."

So how does it compare on the sorry-o-meter?

HOW does yesterday's apology compare to other political contrition over the years?

No stars - Not sorry

One stars - Quite sorry

Two stars - Sorry

Three stars - Very sorry

NICOLA STURGEON

Forced to say sorry after writing a letter to court in support of a fraudster.

APOLOGY RATING **

JACK MCCONNELL

Issued a clear-the-air confession outlining an extra-marital affair before he took the reins as First Minister in 2001, insisting he had "let everyone down".

APOLOGY RATING *

RICHARD NIXON

Embroiled in Watergate, the president offered a carefully worded resignation: "I regret deeply any injuries that may have been done . . . that led to this."

APOLOGY RATING *

SILVIO BERLUSCONI

The Italian Prime Minister apologised to his wife after she accused him of flirting with other women. "Forgive me, I beg you," he said.

APOLOGY RATING 0

JOHN PROFUMO

Resigned in 1963 after lying to the House about his affair, but won respect for not attempting to justify his behaviour before dedicating his life to charity work.

APOLOGY RATING ***

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