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Disgraced Fife-born ex-MP Natalie McGarry jailed for two years

Natalie McGarry arrives at Glasgow Sheriff Court for sentencing.
Natalie McGarry arrives at Glasgow Sheriff Court for sentencing.

Shamed ex-MP Natalie McGarry has been jailed for two years after pocketing more than £24,600 from two pro-Scottish independence groups.

McGarry, 41, from Fife, spent the money on rent, takeaways, grocery shopping and a holiday to Spain.

The former Glasgow East SNP MP embezzled the cash, despite receiving money from friends, family and colleagues.

McGarry complained about being “skint” despite her £67,000 a year salary topped up with handouts from family including aunt former presiding officer Tricia Marwick.

The mum-of-one was caught following a financial probe into an independence group of which she was treasurer.

McGarry was convicted in May of embezzling £19,974 while treasurer for Women for Independence (WFI) between April 26, 2013 and November 30 2015.

Former MP Natalie McGarry arriving at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

McGarry also took £4,661 between April 9 2014 and August 10 2015 when she was Treasurer, Secretary and Convenor of Glasgow Regional Association (GRA) of the SNP.

‘No other sentence appropriate’

Jailing her, Sheriff Tom Hughes stated: “It’s quite clear that society expects the highest standards for those who seek and achieve high public office.

“You were a role model for aspiring politicians and you became an MP.

“By your involvement in these offences, you have not only betrayed the trust placed in you by others but your standards have fallen well short of what the public have the right to expect from politicians and MPs.

“Because of the serious nature of the offences, a prison sentence is unfortunately necessary as no other sentence is appropriate.

“The sentence has to reflect the serious nature of the offences and the prolonged period over they took place and your blatant breach of trust placed in you by others.”

Natalie McGarry.

McGarry showed no emotion as she was led to the cells.

A Proceeds of Crime hearing to recoup the cash will take place in August.

Loan from health secretary

McGarry, originally from Inverkeithing and most recently of Clarkston, East Renfrewshire, had “categorically” denied the two charges at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

The court heard she helped found WFI in 2012 with former Health Secretary Jeane Freeman and ex-MSP Carolyn Leckie.

She became treasurer of the organisation and PayPal funds entered her personal bank account.

Mr Yousaf loaned McGarry cash.

WFI raised more than £27,700 from three online crowdfunders between April and November 2014.

A “distressed” McGarry was loaned money meantime by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, who heard she was going to be evicted that day.

Mr Yousaf said in evidence: “There was a reason her and her partner didn’t have access to the funds.

“I offered to give her a loan of funds about the £600 mark from the bank across the road.

“I made the transaction and the money was returned roughly in the timescale.”

Trip to Spain

McGarry remained in control of WFI finances as more money from further fundraisers and a donate button continued to enter her bank account.

The jury was shown a bank statement in which McGarry’s personal account had a balance of £10.74 – later topped up by a PayPal transfer of £1,700.

A £1,000 rent payment was then seen to come out of the account the following day.

WFI also footed the bill for part of McGarry’s five-year Amigo Loan of £5,000, as well as Tesco and Asda trips and purchases on Just Eat.

McGarry who had “no regular income” also went on holiday to Spain with her partner, then-Tory councillor David Meikle and another couple during this time period.

David Meikle, Natalie McGarry’s husband.

McGarry transferred £1,140 from her bank account on September 1 2014 to Mr Meikle, who had purchased flights and car hire two days before for £1,035.92.

‘She made a fortune’

Prosecutor Alistair Mitchell said to the jury in his closing speech: “The extravagance doesn’t matter, she took it dishonestly – it doesn’t matter if it was £20 or £20,000.

“Evidence was showing money was being used from WFI for purchases of that sort.”

Jurors were told McGarry also failed to pay charity Positive Prisons Positive Futures £360 from a WFI bucket collection and a similar collection for a Perth foodbank was not handed over.

This element of the charge was dropped before conviction, however.

McGarry continued her WFI treasurer role when she became an MP in spring 2015.

Then-SNP leader Alex Salmond and with McGarry during her unsuccessful 2014 Cowdenbeath by-election bid.

Her constituency office manager Rachel Mackie recalled: “She made a fortune, she was on a good salary and her partner was a councillor, she would be in the office complaining about being skint all the time.”

McGarry was still treasurer and convenor of the GRA, where she was in sole control of the finances.

McGarry was seen to make cheques out to herself – one for £2,000 to pay for media training for election candidates, which the company did not receive.

She also kept refunds from parliamentary expenses body IPSA, including £600 for a constituency office survey and a £500 election deposit.

McGarry meantime paid the survey firm and Shettleston SNP from the GRA purse.

McGarry had been handed pre-signed blank cheques to make such payments, as well as others made out to cash.

Hid in bathroom during raid

A WFI colleague stated to the jury that McGarry’s financial report at a 2015 AGM was “gobbledygook” and “not up to scratch.”

An overall total of £66,029 was put into her account from WFI sources.

A WFI financial probe in late 2015 discovered an income and expenditure gap of £31,824 and the matter was reported to the police.

McGarry has only paid back £6,436.21 on September 2015 which was funded by a £6,500 loan from a friend.

McGarry’s house was raided by officers in May 2016 where a warrant was read through a door to McGarry who “took refuge” in her bathroom.

During the trial, McGarry stated that she was “overwhelmed” with doing the “donkey work” for WFI.

She added the money she had spent was for reimbursements for earlier payments she had personally made for WFI and the GRA.

Sobbed in witness box

McGarry sobbed in the witness box when she said: “It’s been the most hellish experience I can possibly imagine.

“Having my whole life ripped apart when I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and SNP candidate Natalie McGarry during the 2015 election campaign.

Her defence counsel Allan MacLeod told the sentencing hearing: “It is difficult to overstate the impact these offences had on her life.

“In 2015, she was an MP, something of a lifetime ambition, which has turned to a life she could barely have imagined in 2015.

“She said the last seven years have been almost intolerable for her and the consequence is she has been ostracised by former colleagues and people she was friends with and lost her job at parliament.”

Previously pled guilty

McGarry previously pled guilty to embezzling the funds in 2019.

However, an appeal determined she had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

It emerged she had lost her legal representation on the day of the plea and been given just ten minutes by a sheriff to decide whether to tender the plea or represent herself at a lengthy and complex trial.

She tried to withdraw her plea at the sentencing diet but failed and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

She did not serve any of that and her poor mental health throughout the case was cited when the eventual appeal was successful.

Natalie McGarry: How Fife-born indy high-flyer fell from grace

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