Police report on SNP financial investigation to be made “in a few weeks”.

image description, Jo Farrell became Scotland’s first female police chief last October

  • Author, David Cowan
  • Role, BBC Scotland Interior Correspondent

Investigators probing the SNP’s finances will share their findings with the Crown Prosecution Service “within weeks”, Scotland’s chief constable has said.

Jo Farrell declined to say whether anyone else would be charged alongside the party’s former chief executive Peter Murrell, who is accused of embezzling SNP funds.

In a wide-ranging interview, her first since taking office last October, the police chief said she wanted her officers to stop conducting welfare checks on people with mental health problems.

Ms Farrell also reiterated an apology to a former police officer who was sexually abused by a colleague.

Operation Branchform, the investigation into the SNP’s funding and finances, was launched in July 2021.

Last April saw the arrests of Mr Murrell and the party’s former treasurer Colin Beattie.

And in June, former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is married to Mr Murrell, was also arrested.

All three were later released without charge.

But last month Mr Murrell was charged in connection with the misappropriation of SNP funds.

Detectives from the Scottish Crime Campus in Gartcosh worked on the case in consultation with prosecutors from the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Officials are finalizing a so-called standard law enforcement report detailing their findings and presenting their evidence.

Asked when the report will be sent to the Crown Office, the police chief said: “I would expect that to happen in a few weeks.”

Crown Office lawyers will then decide whether the case should be heard in court.

image source, Police Scotland

Jo Farrell became commander of Britain’s second largest police force last October after four years in charge of one of the smallest, Durham Constabulary.

She had no experience of policing in Scotland and her appointment surprised many.

A few weeks after she took office, it emerged that she had used a police car to get home to the north of England during Storm Babet.

The boss was forced to make a public apology in her first appearance before the Scottish Police Authority board, which had just given her the job.

It was painful to watch and detracted from the chief’s main message of the day, which was an argument for increased funding from the Scottish Government.

Facing a hiring freeze, a shrinking workforce and growing operational pressures, Ms Farrell requested a £128m budget increase and managed to secure an additional £104m.

Recruitment has resumed but the force still has its lowest number of officers in 15 years.

Seven months after taking office and conducting a series of media interviews at a Glasgow police station, the new boss’s central message was that officers must be allowed to concentrate on policing.

image description, Sir Iain Livingstone was Chief Constable of Police Scotland for five years until his retirement last August

Police Scotland say they respond to more than 100,000 mental health incidents every year – only 13% of which are criminal.

On busy days, a mental health call comes in every two to three minutes.

In England, many emergency services have taken a new approach and only respond to mental health incidents when a crime has been committed or there is an imminent threat to life.

Ms Farrell says she does not want to go that far but argues Police Scotland should no longer be tasked with carrying out the routine work of other agencies.

Asked whether she would like her officers to stop carrying out welfare checks on people with mental health problems, she replied: “Absolutely.”

“Our commitment to mental health incidents and supporting vulnerable people has a significant impact on this organization and goes well beyond the area where policing should take place.”

“We are the ones who have to deal with burglaries, online sexual abuse, fraud, cybercrime, domestic violence and serious and organized crime. We’re the only ones doing this.”

Ms Farrell also wants to reduce the time officers spend in court waiting to be called to non-trial proceedings.

“Mental health and the courts are the two big issues keeping officers away from frontline policing.

“I would say around a third of officers who are summoned to court have a day off or annual leave and that impacts their wellbeing and work-life balance.”

“My conservative estimate is that only 15% will testify in the end.”

Work is underway to reduce the burden on police of mental health calls and the time they spend in court.

When she took over last year, Ms Farrell said she supported her predecessor, Sir Iain Livingstone’s statement that the force was institutionally discriminatory.

image description, Gemma MacRae, who waived her anonymity, spoke to BBC Scotland News about her ordeal

On the day she spoke to the media, BBC Scotland News had revealed that a former officer had accepted a £431,968 payout from Police Scotland.

Gemma MacRae had been sexually assaulted by a colleague and complained about bullying and misogyny at Forres police station in Moray.

She first made the allegations seven years ago and left the force in 2021.

“The behaviour, attitude and actions she has suffered are clearly abhorrent and have no place at Police Scotland,” Ms Farrell said.

“The majority of people in the organization will feel the same as me.”

Gemma MacRae told the BBC she felt like she had banged her head against a brick wall during the trial and it would still be “career suicide” to file complaints.

“I understand what Gemma is saying and we still have more work to do,” said the police chief.

Ms Farrell added that the force aims to have 16,600 police officers again this year and that it is focusing “heavily on frontline policing” while looking for “opportunities for efficiencies” elsewhere.

image description, Protests against new hate crime legislation took place outside the Scottish Parliament last month

The controversy over the legislation attracted international attention, but police declined all media interview requests.

None of their highly paid, highly experienced senior officers were brought in to explain how the police would interpret the law or deal with complaints.

From the outside it looked as if a bunker mentality had taken hold. Ms Farrell disagrees.

“We made a conscious decision to wait and see how the situation calmed down,” she said.

“It was very impactful early on, but it quickly settled back down to what I would describe as the new norm in terms of reports coming in.”

It is far too early to tell whether the new police chief will have an impact on the force’s many old and new challenges.

The Scottish Police Federation said it is saying the right things, but the big question is whether it can deliver.