Sooner SNP finance probe ends the better, says Scotland’s police chief

Sir Iain Livingstone is due to retire next week as Police Scotland’s chief constable

Police Scotland’s chief constable has said the sooner the investigation into the SNP’s finances is concluded the better for everyone involved.

Sir Iain Livingstone said he hoped it would clarify “evidence and facts” instead of “rumours and innuendo”.

The investigation has seen former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arrested before being released without charge.

Sir Iain said his working relationship with Ms Sturgeon had made the process “difficult”.

But he insisted the two years already spent on Operation Branchform were “entirely legitimate”.

And he denied any suggestion that it had been politically motivated.

In his last interview before he retires next week, Sir Iain said: “We are duty bound to investigate matters if they are reported to us.

“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.”

‘No artificial timescale’

However, the outgoing chief constable said it wasn’t possible to predict when the police probe would be finalised.

“In the nature of these complex investigations, there are a whole series of factors and a multitude of variables that come into play,” he said. “So I would never put an artificial timescale on it.

“It has to take its course. We will continue to work very closely with independent prosecutors and matters will progress in due course.”

Police Scotland has been investigating what happened to more than £600,000 of donations given to the SNP by independence activists since 2021.

Ms Sturgeon, pictured right with local SNP MPs Martin Docherty Hughes and Brendan O’Hara, has said she is certain she has done nothing wrong.

In April, police arrested Ms Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell, the SNP’s former chief executive, before he was released without charge pending further investigation.

As part of the operation, a tent was put up in the couple’s garden as various items were removed from their Glasgow home. Sir Iain Livingstone later described the move as “proportionate and necessary”.

Officers also searched the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh in April.

A luxury motorhome, costing about £110,000, was also seized by police from outside the home of Mr Murrell’s mother in Dunfermline.

Almost two weeks later, SNP treasurer Colin Beattie was arrested and released without charge while further inquiries were carried out.

Mr Beattie resigned as party treasurer shortly afterwards.

Police tent outside Nicola Sturgeon's home in Glasgow
A police tent was erected outside Sturgeon’s home during an investigation in April

Ms Sturgeon, Mr Murrell and Mr Beattie were the three signatories on the SNP’s accounts.

The chief constable reiterated that the police investigation had not been politically motivated, saying he and his officers “have to do our duty without fear or favour”.

He added: “These are difficult challenges but I would fiercely reject any sense that I, as an individual, am motivated through any political perspective.

“I am not. Not for a second. My priorities are the rule of law and public safety.”

‘Operational independence’

Sir Iain also said the investigation had not affected Police Scotland’s relationship with the Scottish government and its ministers.

“Scottish ministers recognise the operational independence of the chief constable,” he said.

“I would rightly be criticised if I hadn’t conducted this investigation with the rigour that we are doing because I would have been seen as neglecting my duty. That has not happened.”

Ms Sturgeon announced on 15 February – four months before her arrest – that she would be standing down as both SNP leader and first minister once a successor was elected. Humza Yousaf later won the contest to replace her.

She said at the time that she knew “in my head and in my heart” that it was the right time to go, and has since denied the timing was influenced by the police investigation.

Jo Farrell, the current chief constable of Durham Constabulary, will replace Sir Iain. She will be Police Scotland’s first female chief constable.

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