Activist who reported Natalie McGarry: Here's what raised my suspicions

Natalie McGarry outside court.
Natalie McGarry outside court.
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An activist who made the decision to shop former SNP MP Natalie McGarry to the cops for embezzling funds revealed how suspicions were raised.

Natalie McGarry was jailed for 18 months at Glasgow Sheriff Court after admitting embezzling around £21,000 from campaign group Women for Independence (WFI), and splashing out on a holiday using money intended for a food bank.

She used stolen cash to pay her rent as well as embezzling more than £4,000 from a regional SNP group.

Suspicions were raised by activists from WFI, who initially gave McGarry the benefit of the doubt, believing she was disorganised, before the MP for Glasgow East began to block former pals on social media.

Kathleen Caskie, 53, got to know McGarry when they formed WFI in a pub in Stirling in 2012.

As momentum built around the independence referendum campaign, Ms Caskie and her colleagues realised they needed to better organise their accounting.

Funds went into a PayPal account controlled by McGarry, and which she refused to hand over the password to, and another bank account.

Months after McGarry was elected as Glasgow East MP in May 2015, her former colleagues contacted police to raise their concerns - prepared to give evidence in court and knowing she could be jailed.

Ms Caskie believes that more than double the amount McGarry was accused of taking could have been embezzled, but has no way of proving that.

And she revealed that the allegations prompted hostility from senior figures within the SNP, although it was Jeanne Freeman, now the Health Secretary, who went to the police.

Ms Caskie said: "It seems that the money from the first fundraiser, which I had assumed had gone into this PayPal account that Natalie had control of, according to the Crown, actually went straight into Natalie's bank account.

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"That first PayPal account remains very unclear.

"Natalie claimed to WFI it had been closed in February 2015, but we had very good reasons to believe it hadn't been closed.

"It came to light that women who were members were still paying money into it."

Reformers wanted WFI to hold annual general meetings, hold elections and become a company, which would mean filing accounts.

Ms Caskie said: "Natalie fought back at that tooth and nail.

"In retrospect, you realise that's because of the formality of having to do annual audited accounts and putting them in the public domain. That was an alarm bell."

A second PayPal account was set up when McGarry had not handed over the password to the original one, and members of the WFI began to question why McGarry would not cooperate.

Ms Caskie said: "We didn't want to set up a new PayPal account. We wanted the passwords to the original PayPal account."

Activists still believed it was more of a muddle than anything more serious, and a chartered accountant was waiting to help McGarry.

Ms Caskie said: "We expected a big pile of receipts.

"We'd worked out she wasn't very good at it.

"The expectation was there would be a big folder dumped on the table and she'd go 'look at this mess' and our accountant would go 'seen worse'."

McGarry was elected in May 2015 and she distanced herself from her WFI friends.

Former Scottish Socialist Party MSP Carolyn Leckie, another respected WFI figure, told Ms Caskie the amount in the bank account was short by thousands of pounds.

Ms Caskie said McGarry stopped replying to emails and started to block and unfriend people on social media, and responses were marked by "prevarication" and "deliberate evasion".

The accountant went to McGarry's home, but McGarry used the presence of newly-elected MP Mhairi Black to bat away questions.

Ms Caskie said: "The accountant had gone there to see the receipts, but she couldn't sit down and talk about the money because she had put on a party.

"The accountant said 'I am here to talk to you about the money', but Natalie said 'but Mhairi's here and we are all going to the pub'."

The mum-of-one was given a deadline to hand over receipts but missed it.

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When given another deadline, McGarry offered to give WFI £6,500 that was in her bank account.

Ms Caskie, Jeane Freeman, the accountant and other colleagues were alarmed by McGarry's behaviour and knew they could not turn a blind eye.

They put together a dossier, and Ms Caskie said: "It wasn't our money. We were holding that money in trust.

"Jeane [Freeman] took that information to the police.

"We did not make that decision without understanding what the consequences would be.

"We knew it would ruin her career and probably end up in a jail sentence. So that was a fairly monumental decision."

After news broke of the police complaint, Ms Caskie said there was an "initial reluctance" within the SNP to believe them, and she had a "screaming fight" with party headquarters on the phone.

McGarry's vagueness on her employment status is one of the mysteries of this scandal and her former colleague says she claimed to help "third sector" organisations bid for European funding, but many people suspect she did not have a job.

Ms Caskie said: "She said she couldn't have a credit card because when she was a student the girl she shared a flat with ran up catalogue debt in her name.

"So she said she had a bad credit history. It seemed a bit odd."

McGarry eventually admitted her crimes in court before trying to reverse a guilty plea - an attempt which a judge rejected.

Critics said she should have been spared jail due to having a young child.

Ms Caskie refused to be drawn on the jail sentence handed to McGarry, and said: "That's what people get for embezzlement under trust."

She added: "If you were doing a civil action, on the balance of probabilities, we could go for £40,000.

"Beyond reasonable doubt? £21,000."

But although she is no longer active in the WFI, Ms Caskie hopes to be reunited with the woman she described as "funny, witty and clever", but who has yet to take responsibility for her crimes.

She described McGarry's attitude as "entitled" and believed that was what motivated the crimes.

Ms Caskie said: "She hasn't admitted as much as a clerical error.

"I would love to get a letter from Natalie in prison, just saying 'I'm sorry for the way things went down, when I get out can we go for a glass of wine and talk about it?'.

"I would say yes.

"I would love this to become a story of redemption. That would be wonderful."