Nicola Sturgeon's husband Peter Murrell charged with embezzlement of SNP funds

The former SNP chief executive was re-arrested on Thursday morning

Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell, the former chief executive of the SNP, has been charged with embezzlement of the party’s funds after a long-running investigation by Police Scotland.

The force said the 59-year-old was charged at 6.35pm after being arrested on Thursday morning and questioned by detectives for more than nine hours. He was previously arrested on April 5 last year in the same probe, but was later released without charge, pending further enquiries.

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Ms Sturgeon, who resigned as first minister and SNP leader in February last year, was arrested two months after her husband, while the former party treasurer Colin Beattie was also arrested. Both Ms Sturgeon and Mr Beattie were released without charge pending further investigation.

Former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, pictured arriving home, has been charged in connection with embezzlement of SNP funds following a police investigation into the party's finances. Photo: John DevlinFormer SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, pictured arriving home, has been charged in connection with embezzlement of SNP funds following a police investigation into the party's finances. Photo: John Devlin
Former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, pictured arriving home, has been charged in connection with embezzlement of SNP funds following a police investigation into the party's finances. Photo: John Devlin

The police probe, known as Operation Branchform, began after concerns were raised about the use of more than £600,000 in donations meant for independence campaigning.

Police Scotland said in a statement: “A 59-year-old man has today, Thursday, April 18, 2024, been charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the Scottish National Party.

“The man, who was arrested at 9.13am today and had previously been arrested as a suspect on April 5, 2023, was charged at 6.35pm after further questioning by Police Scotland detectives investigating the funding and finances of the party.

“A report will be sent to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in due course. The man is no longer in police custody. As this investigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment further.

Peter Murrell. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesPeter Murrell. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Peter Murrell. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“The matter is active for the purposes of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and the public are therefore advised to exercise caution if discussing it on social media.”

It is understood Mr Murrell has resigned his SNP membership.

An SNP spokesperson said: “While this development will come as a shock, the police investigation remains ongoing and it would, therefore, be inappropriate to make any comment."

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Mr Murrell played a vital role in the SNP for more than two decades, helping to turn it into the dominant force in Scottish politics.

He replaced Michael Russell as chief executive of the party just as the devolution era was dawning in Scotland, and his backroom skills proved invaluable as he oversaw the day-to-day running of the party.

The SNP's breakthrough at the Holyrood election in 2007 has been partly credited to Mr Murrell. His marriage to Nicola Sturgeon in 2010 helped cement his position as one of the most powerful figures in Scottish politics.

He resigned as chief executive of the SNP in March last year amid a row over the party’s membership numbers. He accepted the party had misled the media over a drop in members.

The SNP’s former head of communications Murray Foote had resigned from his post a day earlier after denying reports the party had lost 30,000 members, branding them "inaccurate" and "drivel".

Following concerns expressed by SNP candidates over voting in the leadership contest, the party released membership figures, confirming there were 72,186 paid-up members and the party had indeed lost 30,000 members – weeks after the denial.

Police descended on the home shared by Mr Murrell and Ms Sturgeon in April last year, with a blue forensic tent erected in the couple’s garden. The SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh was also searched.

Police also seized a camper van from outside the Fife home of Mr Murrell’s mother.

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Following Ms Sturgeon’s arrest in June 2023, she insisted she had “done nothing wrong”.

Referring to Mr Murrell’s arrest on Thursday morning, Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “This is an extremely serious development and it’s essential that all SNP staff and politicians, past and present, co-operate fully with Police Scotland.

“This complex investigation has been going on for three years and it’s vital that the SNP are fully open and transparent so that the police can finally conclude their probe into the party’s murky finances.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “This is another incredibly concerning development in this long-running investigation. It is essential that Police Scotland is able to proceed with this investigation without interference.”

The police investigation into the SNP was launched in July 2021 amid complaints about how donations were used.

Ms Sturgeon previously said she was “not concerned” about the party’s finances. "The finances of the SNP are independently audited, our accounts are sent to the EC [Electoral Commission] in common with other parties, and published, so there's full scrutiny around that,” she said in June 2021.

In one of his final interviews shortly before stepping down as Police Scotland Chief Constable last year, Sir Iain Livingstone confirmed Operation Branchform had “moved beyond what some of the initial reports were”, saying this was not uncommon in financial inquiries.

Sir Iain said at the time he would not put an “absolute timeframe” on the length of the investigation, but that it would be “proportionate and timeous”.

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He said in August last year: “Our action and our investigation is in the interests of everybody involved because it will clarify facts and deal with evidence and facts as opposed to rumour and innuendo. So the sooner this investigation is concluded, the better for everyone involved.”

First Minister Humza Yousaf said earlier this month he would welcome an end to the police inquiry into the SNP’s funding and finances.

Asked if he was frustrated over the length of time being taken by the inquiry, Mr Yousaf had told BBC Scotland: “Well, I think people will realise that all of us in the SNP would like to see a conclusion to Operation Branchform.

“I think that’s stating the obvious but, of course, it’s up to Police Scotland to determine how long that takes and for them to have the space and time to investigate thoroughly, and I don’t intend to interfere in that.

“It’s for Police Scotland to take as much time as they require in order to investigate thoroughly.”

Mr Yousaf had earlier this year conceded the police investigation had “clearly” impacted on the public’s perception and dwindling trust in the party.

He also admitted the SNP Government had made “failures” and “mistakes”, saying his party needed to be upfront about where it had not stepped up.

A YouGov poll published this month had shown Labour leading the SNP in Scotland for first time since the 2014 independence referendum, in a sign of the governing party’s decline since Ms Sturgeon’s resignation last year.

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In an interview in January, Mr Yousaf told BBC Radio 4: “The police investigation has been one of the most difficult times for the party. There’s no ifs or buts or maybes about it.

“There has clearly been an impact in terms of how we were perceived by the public and issues of trust, and I’ve got to work hard ... to make sure that people know, whatever the outcome of that police investigation is, that the SNP is a party that they can trust. But it’s been difficult, no doubt for those involved – but difficult for us as a party.”