Ex-Highland councillor admits falsifying expenses

THE youngest councillor ever to be elected in the Highlands has admitted falsifying his expenses in a bid to win a seat on the local authority.

Alex Murray-McLeod had sentence deferred for background reportds at Inverness Sheriff Court. Picture: Complimentary
Alex Murray-McLeod had sentence deferred for background reportds at Inverness Sheriff Court. Picture: Complimentary
Alex Murray-McLeod had sentence deferred for background reportds at Inverness Sheriff Court. Picture: Complimentary

Alexander Lindsay Murray-MacLeod formed a fraudulent scheme to circumvent the rules for campaign expenses to get elected as a Landward Caithness councillor last year, when he was just 19. He was the youngest in Scotland to be elected last May.

At Inverness Sheriff Court, the former employee of First Minister Alex Salmond, who is now 21, had sentence deferred for background reports after he admitted conducting his election campaign by fraud.

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Outside court, he said: “I have come to Inverness with a real determination to face the consequences of my actions and in the spirit of very genuine contrition and deep remorse.

“It is a very hard day as it is never easy for anyone to admit he has done anything wrong, especially for someone elected as a teenager.”

He added that his actions were “perpetrated in the heat of a campaign”.

MacLeod, who resigned his seat on Highland Council three months ago, said: “I know this will cause a great deal of hurt to a lot of people, my family, friends and supporters, and most importantly my former constituents who have rightly had the opportunity to have a by-election to elect a new councillor.

“I realise this will shake peoples’ faith in politics. It is important to say that my single act of foolishness has nothing to do with the council I served on or the party I grew up in.”

His fraud was committed between 12 March and 8 June, 2012, at various locations in the Highlands, including council HQ in Inverness and his Wick constituency office.

The scheme involved knowingly incurring election expenses in excess of the specified maximum - £1226.04 – permitted.

He also altered invoices from Caithness Print Solutions and the John O’ Groat Journal so they failed to show the true extent of the cost of the services provided.

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MacLeod knowingly declared false expenses to Highland Council officials

When MacLeod resigned he said he had to be “honest about any mistakes that I have made”, adding: “I got into this situation when I was very young, with all the arrogance and hot-headedness that that entails.

“I feel a redoubtable sense of sorrow and regret for the events which have unfolded. I understand that this news will hurt a great many of my friends, colleagues, and supporters. I am truly,very genuinely sorry about that.

MacLeod will be sentenced on 9 January next year.

He had stood down as an SNP Party member when the allegations arose.

He was Gaelic spokesman for the SNP-led administration, but has resigned from the controlling group on the local authority while there are legal proceedings against him.

A police probe was launched when a complaint was made to the force by an unnamed individual about his conduct during the election campaign.

MacLeod was born and raised in Tain, Ross-shire, and was taught through Gaelic at Tain Royal Academy. He left school early and worked for 10 months for First Minister Alex Salmond.

He subsequently studied Law at Edinburgh University and was also very active in the Young Scots for Independence organisation, rising to the position of National Secretary.

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In 2010 he was appointed a Parliamentary Assistant to the SNP MSP Rob Gibson and and was his Campaign Manager in the 2011 election when Gibson captured the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross seat from the Lib-Dems.

He has enjoyed a high profile on the authority since his election victory, declaring the council would “not know what hit it” once he started work.

The councillor was a vocal supporter for the lifting of the ban on same-sex marriage, saying: “I look forward to making full use of this new law – maybe a wee bit later in life.”

Spending limits are imposed on election candidates so that wealthy individuals cannot lavish huge amounts of cash on winning by splashing out on heavy advertising or sponsorship.