Nicola Sturgeon declines to answer whether her husband is 'innocent'

‘I can only speak for myself’: Nicola Sturgeon refuses to answer questions on whether her ex-SNP chief husband Peter Murrell is ‘innocent’ as former first minister makes her return to Holyrood following her dramatic arrest

  • Ex-SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is quizzed about her and her husband’s arrests

Nicola Sturgeon today refused to answer questions about whether her husband is ‘innocent’ as she made her first public return to Holyrood since her dramatic arrest.

The ex-SNP leader, speaking to reporters at the Scottish Parliament, was quizzed about her detention as part of a police probe into the spending of £600,000 in donations.

Ms Sturgeon, who departed as Scotland’s first minister at the end of March, said she was ‘absolutely certain that I have done nothing wrong’.

She also continued to defy calls – including from senior SNP figures – for her to step aside from the SNP while Police Scotland’s Operation Branchform continues.

Ms Sturgeon claimed temporarily suspending her SNP membership would ‘compromise my ability and my right to assert my position that I hold absolutely, which is that I have done nothing wrong’.

But asked whether her husband Peter Murrell – the SNP’s former chief executive who was previously arrested in April as part of the police probe – was ‘innocent’, the former first minister declined to answer.

Nicola Sturgeon refused to answer questions about whether her husband is ‘innocent’ as she made her first public return to Holyrood since her dramatic arrest

The ex-SNP leader, speaking to reporters at the Scottish Parliament, was quizzed about her detention as part of a police probe into the spending of £600,000 in donations

Asked whether her husband Peter Murrell – the SNP’s ex-chief executive who was arrested in April as part of the police investigation – was ‘innocent’, Ms Sturgeon declined to answer

Mr Murrell’s arrest came just prior to a two-day police search of his and Ms Sturgeon’s Glasgow home

Police probe into SNP finances – what’s happened so far 

May 2021 – Douglas Chapman resigns from his role as SNP treasurer, saying he had not been given enough information to do his job

July 2021 – Police Scotland confirm they are investigating after seven complaints were made around donations to the SNP. This followed allegations that £600,000 raised for campaigning towards Scottish independence was diverted elsewhere.

August 2021 – As the party’s annual accounts are published, new SNP treasurer Colin Beattie acknowledges ‘concern’ about transparency over independence-related appeals that had raised more than £600,000.

December 2022 – It emerges that Peter Murrell, the SNP chief executive, had loaned the party £100,000 in June 2021.

February 2023 – Nicola Sturgeon suddenly announces her resignation. She says this was not in relation to short-term pressures but because she knew in her ‘head and heart’ that the time was right to go.

March 2023 – Amid the SNP leadership contest to replace Ms Sturgeon, her husband Mr Murrell announces he is stepping down as the party’s chief executive amid a row over the party’s membership numbers.

5 April 2023 – Mr Murrell is arrested and is released without charge, pending further investigation, the same day.

April 2023 – A luxury camper van is seized by police investigating the SNP’s finances, thought to be worth around £110,000.

18 April 2023 – Mr Beattie is arrested and interviewed by police. He subsequently quits as SNP treasurer.

May 2023 – The SNP appoint AMS Accountant Group as their new auditors. Their previous auditors Johnston Carmichael stood down in September 2022.

11 June 2023 – Nicola Sturgeon  is arrested and quizzed by officers for more than seven hours before being released without charge.

Ms Sturgeon replied: ‘Before I say what I’m about to say, I’m saying it as a statement of fact – not a loaded statement that you should read anything into one way or another.

‘But in a situation like this I can only speak for myself and I am only speaking for myself.’

Ms Sturgeon admitted the past few weeks had ‘not been the best period in my life’.

She added: ‘It’s not an easy period. I’m not saying that for sympathy… The thing that sustains me right now is the certainty that I have done nothing wrong.

‘It is a belief and a certainty that I have.’

Ms Sturgeon was released without charge pending further investigation after being quizzed on 11 June for more than seven hours as part of the probe into the SNP’s finances.

She is the third senior SNP figure to have been arrested as part of Operation Branchform.

It followed the arrests of her husband, Mr Murrell, and former SNP treasurer Colin Beattie in April, who have also both been released without charge.

Mr Murrell’s arrest came just prior to a two-day police search of his and Ms Sturgeon’s Glasgow home.

This saw a blue forensic tent erected out the front of the property, while officers were spotted scouring both inside the house and outside in the back garden.

Soon afterwards, a luxury camper van – thought to be worth around £110,000 – was seized by police.

Michelle Thomson, MSP for Falkirk East, is among senior SNP figures to have called for Ms Sturgeon to be suspended from the party or resign the SNP whip while the police probe continues.

She has referred to how she herself – when Ms Sturgeon was party leader -resigned the SNP whip in 2015 when police began an investigation into a fraud case, which was later dropped.

Asked about calls from within the SNP for her to resign the party’s whip in the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon said this afternoon: ‘It won’t surprise anybody to hear I search my soul on these questions on an ongoing basis.

‘I have dedicated most of my life to the SNP. The interests of the SNP are as close to my heart as it’s possible to be.’

She stressed that stepping aside from the party would ‘compromise my ability and my right to assert my position that I hold absolutely which is that I have done nothing wrong’. 

But Ms Sturgeon hinted she could yet remove herself from the party, adding she would ‘consider on an ongoing basis at all times what’s in the best interests of the SNP’.

The ex-first minister was asked directly about Ms Thomson’s claim that she should be ‘consistent’ on the stance she took as party leader over SNP politicians who were involved in police investigations.

‘I understand Michelle’s position, I understand why she said what she has said. I right now am speaking for myself,’ Ms Sturgeon replied.

Responding to Ms Sturgeon’s press conference at Holyrood this afternoon, Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: ‘Last week Nicola Sturgeon was in hiding and now she’s come out fighting. But her latest “I’ve-done-nothing-wrong” press conference is unlikely to have pleased either her husband or Michelle Thomson.

‘While the former first minister was adamant she was innocent of wrongdoing in the SNP finances scandal, she pointedly refused to give any such assurances on behalf of Peter Murrell.

‘Michelle Thomson is rightly annoyed that she was forced to give up the SNP whip by her then-leader Nicola Sturgeon, who is now refusing to follow her own precedent.

‘But rather than apologise to her colleague, Nicola Sturgeon would only say she understood her anger, which will be cold comfort to those suspended under her leadership.

‘Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that she’s not going anywhere, because to do so might compromise her protestations of innocence, indicates she is more interested in her reputation than the SNP’s.’

Humza Yousaf insisted Nicola Sturgeon still had a ‘good contribution to make’ and denied her woes represented a ‘death knell’ for the SNP’s independence dream

Mr Yousaf claimed support for breaking up the UK among Scottish voters remained ‘absolutely rock solid’ despite a ‘really difficult’ time for his party

Ahead of Ms Sturgeon’s return to the Scottish Parliament today, her successor Humza Yousaf told Sky News he was ‘not surprised’ his predecessor was coming back to Holyrood.

Asked if part if him wished she was not returning, the SNP leader said: ‘No, not at all.

‘She’s a very good parliamentarian. She’s got a good contribution to make and therefore I’m not surprised she’s coming back to parliament.’

He added: ‘She’s been released without charge, she’s going to get on with the job of representing her constituents.

‘I’ll get on with my job of representing my constituents and making sure I’m leading the country as the First Minister of Scotland.’

Ms Sturgeon departed as first minister and SNP leader in March and the subsequent dramatic developments in the police probe have seen a drop in the party’s popularity.

A Panelbase poll this weekend showed Labour were on course to win more seats than the SNP at the next general election.

But Mr Yousaf denied that the current troubles experienced by his party and Ms Sturgeon would be a ‘death knell’ for the SNP’s campaign for Scottish independence. 

He said: ‘I don’t believe that at all. What I believe is that, yes, the last couple of months have been extremely challenging for the SNP – I’m not going to fool your viewers by denying that being the case.

‘Even despite the toughest few weeks, the toughest couple of months probably in our party’s recent history, support for independence is absolutely rock solid.

‘So we’ve got that solid support for independence, my job is to make sure that when these matters pass – and they will pass – we continue to build on those strong foundations that has seen us elected by the people of Scotland election after election after election.

‘The next national test, of course, will be that general election and I’ve got every confidence we will go into that election hoping to win.’

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