Former MP attempts to withdraw guilty plea to embezzlement charges

1 May 2019, 13:34 | Updated: 1 May 2019, 13:42

Natalie McGarry

A bid by a former SNP MP to withdraw her guilty plea to charges of embezzling more than £25,600 from pro-independence organisations has been refused by a court.

Natalie McGarry, 37, admitted two charges of embezzlement when she appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court last week but attempted to reverse that position when she returned to the court for a hearing on Wednesday.

Her new defence lawyer argued McGarry felt she had "no choice" but to tender the guilty plea on April 24 having been under "undue pressure" at the time, when she was representing herself.

The court was told of a breakdown in relations with previous counsel and that the former politician feared having to go through a complex six-week trial without proper legal representation.

Sheriff Paul Crozier said McGarry had been "under no illusion" about what was happening and said the court had "bent over backwards" to help her.

He found the legal test for the plea to be withdrawn had not been met and refused the motion.

The case will return to court next week.

McGarry last week admitted embezzling £21,000 from Women for Independence in her role as treasurer of the organisation.

The former MP had admitted transferring money raised through fundraising events into her personal bank accounts and failing to transfer charitable donations to Perth and Kinross food bank and to Positive Prison, Positive Future between April 26 2013 and November 30 2015.

McGarry, who was elected to represent Glasgow East in 2015 but did not seek re-election in 2017, also last week admitted embezzling £4,661.02 in the course of her role as treasurer, secretary and convener of the Glasgow Regional Association of the SNP between April 9 2014 and August 10 2015.

At the latest hearing, defence counsel Allan Macleod, who was brought on to the case at the weekend, told the sheriff he was lodging a motion to withdraw the guilty plea.

He said it was on the basis it "was tendered in circumstances which, due to the action of her former solicitor, former counsel and your lordship, she felt she had no choice other than to tender a plea of guilty".

The circumstances were prejudicial to the former MP, it was argued.

It was claimed a statement of uncontroversial evidence was never properly discussed with McGarry and she had never indicated any acceptance of guilt before that occasion last week.

"Her position to date is that while she accepts that her financial organisation may have been lacking, somewhat haphazard, at no point has she ever accepted that she dishonestly appropriated any of these funds," Mr Macleod told the court.

He spoke of a "breakdown" in relations between McGarry and past counsel, and a solicitor had said they would be unable to represent her.

She believed "if she pled not guilty to these charges she would face the prospect of a six-week trial without legal representation", the court was told.

The court heard she suffers from anxiety, including panic attacks, has post-natal depression and is in receipt of medication.

The motion to withdraw the plea was opposed by the Crown.

Sheriff Crozier, who had urged the defence to be careful in how it framed its submissions, said McGarry "was under no illusion about what was going on" at the previous hearing.

"The court bent over backwards to be of assistance to Ms McGarry," he said.

The sheriff told the court: "The legal tests have not been met. The motion to withdraw the plea will be refused."

A 23-page narrative of events was due to be read to the court but this was postponed after the defence claimed it contained a "large number of factual inaccuracies".

Sheriff Crozier adjourned the next hearing to Friday May 10.