A dramatic raid on Nicola Sturgeon’s home was “proportionate”, Police Scotland’s top policeman has insisted, as he hit out at “inaccurate assertions and uninformed speculation” about the investigation into SNP finances.
Sir Iain Livingstone, in what was seen as a thinly-veiled attack on SNP figures who have attempted to discredit the probe, warned that he would “fiercely resist any attempt to bring political pressure” to influence police activities.
Ms Sturgeon’s home was raided, and her husband Peter Murrell arrested, on Apr 5. The SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh was also searched while a luxury camper van, owned by the party, was seized from the Dunfermline driveway of the home of Mr Murrell’s elderly mother.
Questions have been raised about the timings of the raids, with a warrant granted two weeks after police first informed the Crown Office they wanted to search the home, only after the SNP leadership contest had ended.
Several SNP figures, such as former SNP media chief Murray Foote and Ms Sturgeon’s former-aide Noel Dolan, have suggested the actions of police were heavy-handed.
Images of a forensics-style evidence tent in the former First Minister’s front garden were beamed around the world, and have been linked to plunging support for the nationalists in the polls.
Mr Foote branded the search a “grotesque circus” and said he believed no charges would ever be brought, while Mr Dolan said a Prime Minister would never have been treated in the same way.
However, Sir Iain, addressing a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority, warned that “wholly inaccurate assertions, and uninformed speculation will only serve to damage justice, infringe the rights of individuals and undermine the rule of law.”
The chief constable added: “Decisions are and will be based on public safety and the rule of law, not politics or any constitutional position.
“Under Operation Branchform, a dedicated team of officers from Police Scotland’s specialist crime division continue their investigation into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party, working closely and in consultation with experienced independent prosecutors in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
“A diligent, thorough and proportionate criminal inquiry is being conducted with integrity. And two individuals have been arrested and subsequently released without charge, pending further investigation – investigations which continue.”
He added: “I fully understand, recognise and accept the high level of public interest in this particular case. But due process must and will be followed at all times, within whatever timescales are necessary – timescales set by investigative considerations, not political considerations.”
Colin Beattie, the MSP and former SNP treasurer, is the other man who was arrested as part of the police probe.
Mr Murrell, who was the SNP’s long-serving chief executive and married Ms Sturgeon in 2010, stood down from his position in March after accepting the blame for the party lying about the size of its membership.
Ms Sturgeon, who has denied that the police investigation had anything to do with her shock decision to resign in February, said this week that the events had been “unexpected and unwelcome”.
She has refused to answer detailed questions about the episode, such as whether she was aware that her party had bought a luxury campervan which was parked on her mother-in-law’s driveway, citing the live investigation.
SNP sources have claimed the vehicle was to be used as a battle bus during the 2021 Holyrood election campaign, but was not needed once Covid restrictions were lifted.
The SNP was approached for comment.
Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.