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Former health secretary Jeane Freeman tells embezzlement trial accused former MP was ‘trusted’ with finances

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman
Jeane Freeman gave evidence in the trial of Natalie McGarry.

Former health secretary Jeane Freeman told a jury she “trusted” ex-SNP MP Natalie McGarry to run their organisation’s financial affairs.

Miss Freeman stated McGarry was put under control of Women For Independence finances in 2013 in the run-up to the 2014 referendum.

McGarry, 40, who represented Glasgow East, is on trial accused of embezzling more than £25,000 from Women for Independence and another organisation, between April 2013 and August 2015.

The charge claims McGarry embezzled £21,000 while Treasurer for Women for Independence (WFI) between April 26, 2013 and November 30, 2015.

It is alleged she transferred cash made from fundraising events into her own personal accounts and failed to send the donations intended for Perth and Kinross food bank and the charity Positive Prisons Positive Futures.

She then allegedly used cheques – held in the name of Women for Independence – to deposit money into her accounts.

McGarry in charge of finances

Miss Freeman, 68, told the trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court she founded WFI in 2012 with four others to give women a voice in the independence debate.

The ex-SNP MSP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley stated McGarry, from Fife, became involved as the group expanded and her initial role was to organise dinners for members.

Jeane Freeman.

Miss Freeman said McGarry took over financial matters in 2013 as the organisation became “more organised” but there was “no formal structure.”

She said: “Natalie understood how crowdfunding worked, so she was part of all that.

“Natalie McGarry dealt with financial matters and any reports on how much money we had and how much money was raised.”

Ms Freeman told the court she did not check where the money raised in the crowd-funder was transferred to, adding she relied on “verbal reports” from McGarry.

Miss Freeman admitted to having “limited” knowledge as to how crowdfunding worked.

The witness stated members agreed 50% of funds raised by the group would go to local organisations.


It was agreed £20,823 was raised by WFI during a fundraiser between March and April 2014, which left the group with £10,772 after deductions such as fees and refunds.

Prosecutor Alistair Mitchell asked Miss Freeman where she thought the money would be transferred.

She replied: “The WFI bank account” but stated she did not check the account.

“The point of Women For Independence is we were founded on trust.”

— Former health minister Jeane Freeman

Asked why not, she replied: “It’s a good and important question.

“The point of WFI is we were founded on trust.

“We trusted each other and that goes across the organisation that we would do the job we volunteered to do.

“If someone was struggling, you would say so and someone from the organisation would work hard to be non-judgmental and support each other.”

Information left on doorstep in bag

Miss Freeman told the court the electoral commission required a financial report on WFI following the independence referendum.

She said chartered accountant Elizabeth Young – a WFI member – offered McGarry assistance, which was not taken up.

It was agreed the report was submitted.

Miss Freeman said a third fundraiser took place before a WFI AGM in May 2015, which raised £15,515 – taking the total money collected by the organisation to £49,816.23.

Miss Freeman claimed Miss Young offered her services to McGarry again before the AGM to see the state of the finance situation.

She said that she “found it difficult” to get the required information from McGarry, including statements and passwords for the PayPal account used for crowdfunding.

She added: “I was beginning to ask at the end of 2014 into 2015 faced with the AGM and when I saw the bank statements, it felt a bit more serious than just annoying.”

Miss Freeman said she was waiting on all of the information from McGarry until November 2015.

She stated McGarry had sent it in “dribs and drabs” some of which was left on her doorstep in a bag.

Emails were also shown to the jury with Miss Freeman setting various deadlines for information to be sent.

‘Burying head in sand’

The witness claimed fellow WFI member Carolyn Leckie visited McGarry on November 3 2015.

An email from Miss Leckie to Ms Freeman, outlining what she believed was said by McGarry read: “You told me that the WFI PayPal account receipts and invoices are in a mess and that you have been burying your head in the sand.”

It was also stated in the email £6,426 of WFI cash had been put into McGarry’s personal bank account.

Carolyn Leckie of Women for Independence visited the accused.

Ms Freeman said: “I was very mindful that the money had come to WFI had come from men and women who couldn’t afford very much at all gave it in trust.

“There was a significant responsibility to get to the bottom of this as it would be dishonest.”

The witness claimed she was also told by McGarry that she did not use the money for her own purposes.

Miss Freeman said she decided with Miss Young to hand all the information to the police and outlined to the WFI national convention about the circumstances.

Second charge

A second charge states McGarry embezzled £4,661 between April 9 2014 and August 10 2015.

It is alleged while McGarry was treasurer, secretary and convener of Glasgow Regional Association of the SNP, she used cheques drawn from its bank account to pay expenses not incurred by the group.

McGarry is accused of failing to pass on donations to Perth and Kinross food bank.

McGarry is claimed to have retained reimbursements intended to settle expenses to which she was not entitled.

The charge goes on to say McGarry used cheques and money from donations to the organisation to deposit money to her own accounts.

McGarry, of the city’s Clarkston, denies the two charges.

The trial continues before Sheriff Tom Hughes.