Former SNP MP jailed for embezzling £25,000
Natalie McGarry sentenced to two years in prison for embezzling funds from pro-independence groups
A former Scottish National party MP who embezzled almost £25,000 from two pro-independence groups has been jailed for two years.
Natalie McGarry, who represented Glasgow East between 2015 and 2017, was convicted of two charges of embezzlement, totalling £24,635, in May after a trial at Glasgow sheriff court.
A jury found her guilty by majority of a charge of embezzling £19,974 while she was treasurer of Women for Independence (WFI), a group she helped set up, between 26 April 2013 and 30 November 2015.
She was also found guilty by majority of a second charge of taking £4,661 between 9 April 2014 and 10 August 2015 when she was treasurer, secretary and convener of the Glasgow Regional Association of the SNP.
In a statement that expressed relief that the long-running investigation was finally over, the national committee of WFI said it was disappointed McGarry had received a custodial sentence.
“Women for Independence has been long associated with campaigning for justice for women caught up in the criminal justice system … 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.”
It added that the guilty verdict was “a final vindication for our actions [reporting McGarry to the police], which were criticised by some quarters at the time”.
Sentencing McGarry, Sheriff Tom Hughes said she had betrayed people who put their trust in her and that a custodial sentence was inevitable.
He told her: “It’s quite clear that society has a right to expect the highest standards from those who seek and eventually achieve high public office.
“Through your role in these offences, you have not only betrayed the trust placed in you by others, but your standards have fallen well short of those the public should have a right to expect from MPs.”
During the six-week trial, the court heard from dozens of witnesses, including Scotland’s former health secretary Jeane Freeman, who was also one of the founding members of WFI, one of the most significant grassroots groups to emerge from the 2014 campaign.
Freeman explained that she reported McGarry after noticing a significant shortfall in WFI accounts. She described her “growing unease” as McGarry delayed handing over receipts and invoices that would show what the funds had been spent on.
She said she had no idea donations made to the group’s independence Crowdfunder were going from the organisation’s PayPal account into McGarry’s personal bank account.
Freeman said she felt “a significant responsibility” to trace what had happened to money that had been donated by “women and men, many of who could not afford very much at all, and they’d given it in trust”. The court also heard from witnesses that McGarry had financial difficulties and regularly received loans from family and friends.
That included from Humza Yousaf, the Scottish health secretary, who gave McGarry £600 to prevent her from being evicted from her house.
The court saw McGarry’s bank records, which showed Crowdfunder donations from WFI being transferred to her own personal account.
McGarry was elected to represent the Glasgow East constituency for the SNP in 2015, but resigned the whip after she was first linked to allegations of missing donations in November of that year.
She continued in parliament as an independent MP representing Glasgow East but did not seek re-election in 2017.