Natalie McGarry leaving Glasgow Sheriff Court where she has been found guilty of embezzling almost £25,000 from two pro-independence groups (Photo: PA)
Former MP Natalie McGarry committed “significant breaches of trust”, a court heard, as she was found guilty of embezzling almost £25,000 from two pro-independence groups.
Over the course of the six week trial, the court heard evidence from witnesses like Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and McGarry’s aunt, Tricia Marwick, a former Holyrood presiding officer.
This is everything you need to know.
Who is Natalie McGarry?
McGarry is a former Scottish politician who served as a Member of Parliament for Glasgow East from 2015 to 2017.
She was born on 7 September 1981 in Fife and studied at St Columba’s in Dunfermline before going on to gain a degree in law at the University of Aberdeen.
Before sitting as an MP, McGarry had been an SNP activist and convener of the SNP’s Glasgow Regional Association (GRA). She is also one of the co-founders of the Women for Independent (WFI) group, which was set up in 2012.
Speaking to the Herald in 2012, McGarry said: “[The WFI] came together because a group of us arrived at the conclusion, individually, that women’s voices were missing from both sides of the referendum debate.”
After failing to be selected as an SNP candidate in the 2014 European Parliament election, McGarry was chosen as the party’s candidate for the 2014 Cowdenbeath by-election. However, she failed to win the by-election.
In 2015, she was selected to contest Glasgow East in the 2015 General Election. She became the MP for Glasgow East on 8 May 2015 after taking the seat from former Labour MP Margaret Curran.
McGarry resigned from the SNP after six months, in November 2015, following allegations of financial misconduct. She withdrew from the party whip whilst the matter was investigated, and sat as an independent until the end of the parliamentary session in May 2017.
Is she married?
After being together since 2011, McGarry married Conservative councillor for Pollokshields David Meikle in May 2016. The pair announced their engagement shortly after McGarry was elected to Westminster.
On 19 April 2017, McGarry tweeted that she and husband Meikle were expecting their first baby, after McGarry fainted in Westminster.
She wrote: “Delighted to announce my husband & I are expecting a baby. I fainted earlier & I’d like to thank the medics who were called as precaution.”
Meikle was first elected to Glasgow City Council in 2007 and was re-elected in 2012 and in 2017. During his time with the council, Meikle has held a number of positions - he is currently the Convener of the Finance & Audit Scrutiny Committee, and sits on the Strathclyde Pension Fund.
He graduated from Glasgow University in 2005 with an honours degree in politics.
What happened with the Women for Independence group?
Police launched an investigation into the campaign funds of the WFI after the organisation alerted the authorities after noticing discrepancies in its accounts.
Kathleen Caskie told the Herald about how she and other senior WFI figures like Carolyn Leckie, Jeane Freeman and Kezia Kinder had failed to obtain answers from McGarry, the groups treasurer, about missing money and therefore had no choice but to alert the police.
She said: “We knew it would ruin her career and probably end up in a jail sentence. So that was a fairly monumental decision.”
Caskie told the publication that, according to her estimations, the WFI turned over around £100,000 between April 2014 and April 2015. The money, Caskie explained, was handled in two ways - the first through a bank account that McGarry had no control over and the other through a PayPal account which McGarry had “full control” over.
Caskie said: “It seems that the money from the first fundraiser, which I had assumed had gone into this PayPal account that Natalie had control of, according to the Crown, actually went straight into Natalie’s bank account.
“The first PayPal account remains very unclear. Natalie claimed to WFI [the PayPal] account had been closed in February 2015, but we had very good reason to believe it hadn’t been closed… It came to light that women who were members were still paying money into it.”
As WFI continued to operate following the referendum, the group held discussions regarding transitioning into professional company - which would mean filing accounts.
Caskie said: “Natalie fought back tooth and nail. In retrospect, you realise that’s because of the formality of having to do annual audited accounts and putting them in the public domain. That was an alarm bell.”
After being elected in May 2015, McGarry distanced herself from the WFI - however there were still unanswered questions about missing money.
Caskie said that their options were either “ignore it and walk away” or go to the police.
The option to just walk away from the issue wasn’t a viable one. Caskie said: “It wasn’t our money. We were holding that money in trust.”
When was she charged with embezzlement?
After police were alerted over the “discrepancy” between donation incomes and expenditures, McGarry faced allegations of having transferred cash raised during campaign events into her personal account.
She was also accused of having deposited cheques made out to the campaign group into her own account.
McGarry gave a voluntary interview with Police Scotland in September 2016 - following this interview, she was subsequently charged with a number of fraud offences.
In 2018, McGarry was charged with three counts of embezzlement, two charges under the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 and one charge under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
A plea of not guilty was entered in 2019 for the embezzlement charges and the one charge under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which was in relation to failing to provide a passcode to a seized mobile phone.
At a trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court in April 2019, McGarry pleaded guilty to two charges of embezzlement, including £21,000 from WFI between 26 April 2013 and 30 November 2015, and £4,661 from the GRA between 9 April 2014 and 10 August 2015.
The remaining charges against McGarry were dropped.
But days later she attempted to withdraw her two guilty pleas, with the sheriff ruling that was not possible.
She began a jail sentence of 18 months before being released days after on bail, pending an appeal.
The conviction was quashed, and McGarry was notified of a retrial. The six-week retrial at Glasgow Sheriff Court began on 6 April 2022.
What happened during the trial?
Over the course of the six-week retrial, the court heard from dozens of witnesses, including former Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, who said she reported McGarry after noticing a significant shortfall in WFI accounts.
The ex-SNP MSP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, said she had no idea donations made to the group’s independence Crowdfunder were going from the organisation’s PayPal account into McGarry’s personal bank account.
She also voiced her frustrations at McGarry’s delay in handing over the receipts and invoices which would show what the funds had been spent on.
The court also heard from witnesses that McGarry was skint and regularly received loans from family and friends.
That included from Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, who gave the former MP £600 to prevent her from being evicted from her house.
The court also saw bank records of McGarry’s which showed Crowdfunder donations from WFI being transferred to her own personal account.
It included £10,472.52 on 29 April 2014 and a further £9,848.70 on 12 November 2014 – which she used to pay rent and shopping.
McGarry had said these were “legitimate” expenses which she had incurred and which she was reimbursing herself for.
About £5,000 or £10,000 of expenses were incurred on banners and badges, she said.
These had been paid for by significant cash donations amounting to about £1500 to £1600 per month from family members – including her aunt, Tricia Marwick, a former Holyrood presiding officer.
Of the donations, Sheriff Tom Hughes said: “There were lots of people contributing [to the Crowdfunders] who really were not able to afford it.”
What was she found guilty of?
Following the trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court, McGarry was found guilty of embezzling almost £25,000 from two pro-independence groups.
She was convicted of two charges of embezzlement which totalled to £24,635. A jury found her guilty by majority of a charge of £19,974 while she was WFI between 26 April 2013 and 30 November 2015.
However, the jury deleted a sum of £1026 from the charge which accounted for donations which were to be made to charities Perth and Kinross Foodbank and Positive Prisons Positive Futures.
She was also found guilty by majority of a second charge of taking money between 9 April 2014 and 10 August 2015, when she was treasurer, secretary and convener of the GRA of the SNP.
Sheriff Hughes told McGarry she had been given a position of trust by the two organisations, which had helped her get elected to Westminster.
He said: “What you have been convicted of are a series of incidents which took place over a long period of time.
“It was not a one-off incident. There were a number of transactions carried out by you to allow you to carry out this crime.
“There’s a significant breach of trust in all of this. You were asked to deal with the finances of both Women for Independence and the Glasgow Regional Association of the SNP.”
McGarry, who made no reaction when the verdict was read out, was joined by her family in court.
Sheriff Hughes released McGarry on bail for background and social work reports.
She is expected to appear for sentencing on 30 June.