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Former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier given unpaid work for Covid breaches

Margaret Ferrier MP speaking in Parliament shortly before testing positive for Covid. Image: Supplied

A former SNP MP has been handed an unpaid work order after breaching Covid-19 rules by travelling by train from London to Glasgow, despite knowing she had the virus.

Margaret Ferrier spoke in the Houses of Parliament in September 2020 while awaiting the results of a Covid test.

The 62 year-old then took the train from London to Glasgow after being told she had tested positive.

Ferrier – now an independent MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton Westpled guilty last month at Glasgow Sheriff Court to culpably and recklessly exposing the public to the virus.

She could have faced a possible jail-term but Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull instead ordered her to carry out 270 hours of unpaid work within a nine-month period.

The term was cut from 300 hours due to her guilty plea.

Failed to isolate despite cough

Sheriff Turnbull told Ferrier: “You wilfully disregarded the guidance and did not self-isolate after your test.

“Your behaviour was deliberate and extended over a number of days.

“The gravity of harm that could have resulted from your actions could have been significant.”

Ferrier wore a facemask in court.

Margaret Ferrier MP speaking in Parliament. She had travelled from Glasgow when she should have self-isolated.

Prosecutor Mark Allan told the earlier hearing how Ferrier booked a Covid test online on September 26 2020 as she was “symptomatic” with a cough, then visited the test centre at Glasgow’s Caledonian University.

Scotland was under strict restrictions at the time.

Mr Allan said: “Ferrier subsequently failed to isolate pending the outcome of her test.

“The conduct amounted to a reckless disregard of public safety.”

Mass, shop and bar visits

Ferrier attended a midday mass at St Mungo’s parish church in Glasgow the next day, where she gave a reading to the congregation of 45 people.

Social distancing measures were in place and Ferrier wore a mask when she was not speaking.

She then attended Vic’s Bar in Prestwick, Ayrshire, where she stayed for two-and-a-half hours.

The next day, Ferrier took a ten-to-15-minute taxi journey from her home in Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, to Glasgow Central station, while wearing a face mask.

Margaret Ferrier and Nicola Sturgeon. Ferrier has since had the SNP whip removed.

The politician entered a Marks and Spencer at the station before boarding a train with 183 people on board, to London Euston.

Ferrier checked into the Park Plaza Hotel, Westminster Bridge, before attending the Houses of Parliament at 7.15pm.

Mr Allan said: “She spoke in the chamber of the of the Commons, where social distancing was in operation and apart from when speaking, she wore a face mask.”

Ferrier sat with DUP MP Jim Shannon at a table usually allocated to SNP members, where they conversed for 20 minutes.

Returned to Scotland after positive test

Mr Allan said: “The positive result from the test was delivered at 8.03pm by text and email.

“She attended the SNP whips’ office and spoke to then-chief whip Patrick Grady MP.

“She informed Mr Grady that she would return to Scotland in the morning.”

Margaret Ferrier MP speaks in Parliament while Covid-positive.

Ferrier returned to her hotel at 9.20pm and spent the night there, before returning to London Euston.

The court was told at its busiest time, the train held 153 passengers.

Contact tracers for NHS Test and Protect attempted to contact Ferrier on four occasions but were unable to do so, leaving two voicemails.

Ferrier later contacted Test and Protect and disclosed she had a “slight and infrequent cough” the day before her test.

Mr Allan added: “She said she did not believe that she would be positive.”

Ferrier then informed Mr Grady and the Parliamentary Test and Trace service she was positive.

This led to Mr Shannon being ordered to take a test and isolate in his hotel room – he later tested negative.

Social media statement

Mr Grady was told the following day at a meeting at the Speaker’s Office in the House of Commons Ferrier’s actions required to be reported to the police.

Ferrier contacted police and informed them of her breach before sending out a statement on her social media.

She said: “Despite feeling well, I should have self-isolated while waiting for my test result and deeply regret my actions.

“I take full responsibility and I urge everyone not to make the same mistakes that I have and do all they can to limit the spread of Covid-19.”

“It was 48 hours of poor decisions in a lifetime of otherwise complete observance and upholding of the law.”

— Brian McConnachie KC.

An initial investigation by the Metropolitan Police was handed over to Police Scotland.

Public health expert Dr Andrew Riley told the police Ferrier “significantly increased the risk of harm to both individual and public health.”

Ferrier handed herself in to police on January 4 2021 and was arrested.

Other Westminster breaches

The SNP whip was removed when allegations emerged.

She came under pressure to resign from her seat, but remains an MP.

Her defence KC, Brian McConnachie told the court on Tuesday Ferrier had “convinced herself” the test would be negative and there had then been “uncontrolled panic” when it came back positive.

He said: “It was 48 hours of poor decisions in a lifetime of otherwise complete observance and upholding of the law.”

The advocate also referred to Covid lockdown breaches in Westminster.

Mr McConnachie: “There have been a number of high profile cases down south having been dealt with in a different manner.

“I recognise that, in some ways, they are different (from Ferrier).

“On one view less serious, but on another, more so in that there were pubic gatherings taking place for fun, effectively.”

The KC said 34 testimonials had been written on Ferrier’s behalf including one from Jim Shannon.

He added Ferrier will likely lose her seat at the next election due to her being an independent.