Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry jailed for 18 months

Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry arrives at Glasgow Sheriff Court for sentencing.
Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry arrives at Glasgow Sheriff Court for sentencing.

The political career of Natalie McGarry came to an ignominious end today as the former MP was led from Glasgow Sheriff Court in handcuffs to begin an 18 month jail sentence.

Once a rising star of the SNP who was swept to power at the 2015 general election, the 37-year-old was found to have embezzled thousands of pounds from pro-independence groups of which she was a well-respected member.

She spent the money - more than £25,600 - on rent, a holiday to Spain with her husband, transfers of money to him, and other lifestyle spending, Glasgow Sheriff Court was told.

READ MORE:Natalie McGarry leaves behind 'trail of betrayal'

McGarry pleaded guilty to two charges of embezzlement when she appeared at the court on April 24.

Her attempt to withdraw the guilty pleas at a later hearing was refused by Sheriff Paul Crozier.

Sentencing her at the court on Thursday, Mr Crozier said she had expressed no remorse for her crimes.

He said: “Your fraud and deceit is of the most serious type. You were in a position of trust and you abused those positions.

“You have fallen very far short of the standards the general public should expect from their elected representative.

“Criminality of this sort involves multiple breaches of trust.

“Your conduct is such that the custodial threshold has been passed and there is no alternative sentence available apart from custodial.”

McGarry embezzled £21,000 from Women for Independence (WFI) in her role as treasurer of the organisation.

She transferred money raised through fundraising events into her personal bank accounts and failed to transfer charitable donations to Perth and Kinross food bank and to Positive Prison, Positive Future between April 26 2013 and November 30 2015.

The court heard £750 raised for Perth and Kinross food bank, which would have provided food for 30 families, never reached the organisation.

McGarry also gave her bank details for the Our Voice crowdfunding initiative which raised £10,472.

That money was deposited into her bank account in April 2014 and was spent by early June, some of it legitimately and some of it for rent and other lifestyle spending.

McGarry used some of the money she had embezzled to go on a week-long holiday to Spain with her husband. It was paid for with his Barclaycard, on to which she had transferred some WFI money.

The former MP, who represented Glasgow East and did not seek re-election in 2017, also used cheques drawn on the Women for Independence bank account to deposit money into her own account.

McGarry also admitted embezzling £4,661.02 in the course of her role as treasurer, secretary and convener of the Glasgow Regional Association of the SNP between April 9 2014 and August 10 2015.

Her WFI colleagues eventually became suspicious and had an emergency meeting about accounts in November 2015 and decided she should be reported to police.

McGarry’s defence agent Allan Macleod had urged the sheriff to deliver a non-custodial sentence and said his client continues to maintain she is innocent of the charges.

He said she has had mental health issues over the years, including depression and anxiety, and also suffered from post-partum depression following the birth of her daughter in November 2017.

McGarry sobbed in the dock as her lawyer told the court that earlier this week she suffered a “devastating” miscarriage while six weeks pregnant.

Mr Macleod said: “She describes her life as almost intolerable.

“Two weeks ago she considered that life could not get any worse, and then it did.

“She was pregnant and miscarried, that happened on Sunday and that is something that for her has been absolutely devastating.

“She is at the lowest point in her life she has ever been. Her career is ruined, her reputation is in tatters, she has lost friends, colleagues, her reputation and job, and now her child.”

Mr Macleod said the family’s finances are in a “perilous” state and McGarry’s main concern is for her daughter, who is 18 months old.

McGarry was elected as an SNP member in 2015 but resigned the party whip following the emergence of fraud allegations - which she denied at the time - continuing in Parliament as an independent.

She was charged by police in 2017 over alleged fraud relating to potential missing funds from Women for Independence, which was set up in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish referendum, and the SNP’s Glasgow Regional Association.

Jennifer Harrower, Procurator Fiscal for Specialist Casework, said: “Natalie McGarry took advantage of being in a position of trust and responsibility within the community to embezzle cash for her own gain. Her deception led to a significant sum being diverted from charity into her own bank account.

“We take such criminality very seriously and will not stop at prosecution. Proceeds of Crime proceedings have now been commenced to ensure profits obtained through criminal conduct are confiscated from those who do not deserve them.”

In a statement released after the ex-MP was sentenced, Women For Independence said: “The missing money represented donations from women and men across Scotland to support the organisation’s campaigning for Independence. For many these donations were a real sacrifice.

“Women for Independence has been long associated with campaigning for justice for women caught up in the criminal justice system.

“We were instrumental in the campaign to halt the building of the proposed super prison for women in 2014 and we launched Justice Watch in 2015 which has been acting as a citizens’ witness programme regarding the reality for women and criminal justice.

“The general pattern of offending by women is such that we believe most women serving custodial sentences would be better served by community disposals which do not disrupt families, children or in the long run cost more but which can demonstrate real benefits to women to cut re-offending while making a valuable contribution to the community.

“We had no influence on the sentencing diet and recognise that we were not the only party injured by her actions. We respect the sheriff’s decision given his comments on the seriousness of the matter. We are frustrated however that there are not more alternatives to prison available for sheriffs to consider and we will continue to campaign on this issue.”

Former Labour MP Margaret Curran, who lost her seat to McGarry at the 2015 election, criticised the length of sentence handed down.

She said: “Natalie and I had our differences but this seems such a harsh sentence for a mother of a young child. This must make the case for sentencing reform.”