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BBC 🔵 Humza Yousaf would welcome end to SNP finances inquiry

Police outside Nicola Sturgeon's houseGetty Images

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf has said the SNP would like to see a conclusion to the marathon police inquiry into its funding and finances.

Operation Branchform was launched in July 2021 and on Friday it will be a year since police arrested the SNP’s former chief executive Peter Murrell.

His wife, former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, was arrested in June. Both were released without charge.

Mr Yousaf told BBC Scotland News he would like the inquiry to be over.

But he said Police Scotland should take as much time as they need.

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After his early morning arrest on 5 April, the police spent the day searching the home Mr Murrell shares with Ms Sturgeon in Glasgow.

Images of a police tent in the couple’s front garden dominated news bulletins and front pages and sent shockwaves around the country.

Police insiders said they needed the tent so they could examine potential evidence without being filmed or photographed by the media.

Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon

PA Media

Its use and the scale of the police operation angered many in the SNP and a year on, with a general election on the way, the protracted inquiry is the cause of growing disquiet among party members.

Mr Murrell’s arrest 12 months ago was followed by that of the party’s former treasurer Colin Beattie, who was also released without charge.

Ms Sturgeon attended a police interview by arrangement on 11 June.

Afterwards she told reporters: « I respect and fully understand the process that’s underway but I am absolutely certain that I have done nothing wrong and that is a position that I will continue to maintain. »

Humza Yousaf

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Asked this week if he was frustrated over the length of time being taken by the inquiry, Mr Yousaf replied: « 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. »

The investigation originally centred on £600,000 which had been raised for a second campaign for independence.

Iain Livingstone

PA Media

In July last year, the then chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone shed some light on why it was taking so long.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that inquiries around « fraud or potential embezzlement or misuse of funds » take time.

Sir Iain said investigators needed to obtain information from banks and other financial institutions, which required judicial warrants.

In a later interview Sir Iain said the sooner the investigation was concluded, the better for everyone involved.

But he added the force was duty bound to carry out its work as rigorously as possible.

Another source with knowledge of the case put it this way: « It will take as long as it takes. »

Since her appointment, the new Chief Constable Jo Farrell has refused to discuss the case.

In a statement, Police Scotland said: « As the investigation remains ongoing we are unable to comment. »

Colin Beattie

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The next expected step is for the police to send what is called a standard prosecution report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Its lawyers would then decide what action, if any, should be taken.

No-one is saying when that might happen and the Crown has confirmed that, as yet, no-one has been reported for prosecution.

A spokesperson said: « Senior professional prosecutors from COPFS and an advocate depute are working with police on this ongoing investigation.

« The duration of any investigation will vary depending on its individual circumstances.

« As is routine, to protect the integrity of ongoing investigations, we do not comment in detail on their conduct. »

The senior law officers at the top of the Crown Office are not involved in the process because the case involves politicians.

The Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC and her deputy Solicitor General Ruth Charteris KC are the Scottish government’s principal legal advisors and members of the Scottish cabinet.

The Crown Office spokesperson said: « It is standard practise that any case regarding politicians is dealt with by prosecutors without the involvement of the Law Officers.

« All Scotland’s prosecutors act independently of political interference. »

Related Topics

  • Nicola Sturgeon
  • Police Scotland
  • Peter Murrell
  • SNP (Scottish National Party)
  • Humza Yousaf
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