HMA v Natalie McGarry

At Glasgow Sheriff Court today, 6 June 2019, Sheriff Paul Crozier sentenced Natalie McGarry to 18 months' imprisonment after the accused pled guilty to two charges of embezzlement.

On sentencing, Sheriff Crozier made the following statement in court:

“Before I pass sentence upon you I want it clearly understood that your decision to plead guilty to two out of four charges on this indictment was yours and yours alone, a decision taken, I understand, following legal advice.

“Your pleas of guilty followed a lengthy procedural history in this case both before this court and prior to court proceedings being formally initiated.

“You could have been under no illusions about the allegations that you faced and the steps that you required to take to prepare and present your defence in regard to those allegations.

“From the time of the first diet calling on 21 February 2019 you were well aware that if you maintained your plea of not guilty to the indictment that your trial was scheduled to take place at some point in the period from 23 April until 26 April 2019.

“When the case called on 24 April I was told by your solicitor that he understood that you would be pleading guilty but that he was no longer in a position to act for you and he withdrew from the case. I then, on more than one occasion, offered to continue the case until the following day to allow you further time to consider matters. You declined and insisted you wanted to plead guilty.

“Before you tendered your pleas of guilty I read over the terms of the charges to you as amended and confirmed that you understood each charge. You said that you did and you then pled guilty to charges 1 and 2 only, your not guilty pleas were accepted in relation to charges 3 and 4.

 “I did not hear a Crown narrative that day because I was informed by the Crown that you had indicated that there were some matters within the written copy of the Crown narrative, which had been provided to you and your previous solicitor, with which you took issue. I was told that the substance of that written narrative had been provided to you and your first counsel prior to you dispensing with that counsel’s services. The updated written narrative took into account the matters raised by your second counsel and the plea agreed by your former solicitors.

“The case then called on two further occasions at which you were represented by new solicitors and counsel, on one of those occasions you made a motion to withdraw your pleas of guilty which was refused for the reasons given at that time and I heard the Crown narrative on 10 May 2019.I thereafter called for the background reports which are now before me and your counsel indicated that he would address me today on your behalf with the benefit of those reports.

“Turning now to the charges to which you have pled guilty. They are serious not only because of the sums involved, but because of the nature of the organisations from which the sums were embezzled and the position of trust you held in both those organisations and the periods over which the crimes were committed. It is not my intention to rehearse in any detail the narration provided to the court by the Crown on 10 May.

“In relation to charge 1 you manoeuvred yourself into a position of trust in respect of being in charge of the finances of Women for Independence, an organisation of which you were a founding member and ultimately treasurer. You were to all intents and purposes in control of the finances of that organisation and when called upon to discuss those finances, or to report on them to and with other members of the organisation, you delayed or failed to respond.

“I have no doubt that those delays and failures were down to the fact that you were not only incapable of carrying out your function as treasurer appropriately, but also your knowledge that you had used sums of money ingathered from the public and other sources for your own use, whether that was for paying your rent, payments to your husband, payments for Barclaycard Debts, partial payment for a holiday or other lifestyle expenses.

“The money raised for Women  For Independence was not only for the purposes of that organisation but for the benefit of others less well off in our society, including Perth and Kinross Foodbank and Positive Prisons, Positive Futures.

“Your deceit extended to the very party which had selected you to stand for the position of MP and whom you represented at Westminster as MP, all as more fully set out in charge 2 and as described to me on 10 May. You were Treasurer, Secretary and Convenor of the Glasgow Regional Association of the Scottish National Party.

“By 22 November 2015 the National Committee of Women for Independence had reached the conclusion that your conduct should be reported to the police. When you heard of this, rather than take responsibility for your actions, your attitude was: ‘Why am I being picked on? What have I done to deserve this?’

“I was told that your stated aim back then, approximately three-and-a-half years ago was to offer to pay any shortfall in Women For Independence finances on the basis that the organisation could reimburse you when you were able to provide outstanding receipts. That has not happened.

“You continued in your deceit by embezzling funds from the Glasgow Regional Association of the SNP. Again you used your position of trust within that organisation to further your ends and satisfy your needs. In the end, the very party who had put their trust in you were left with no choice but to report you to the police.

“From as early as January 2016 you had instructed solicitors and a forensic accountant. However, as in your dealings in particular with Women For Independence, you failed to provide those instructed by you with the information they required to assist you.

“You were detained and interviewed by the police on 27 September 2016 and elected to exercise your right to silence at that time by giving a ‘no comment’ interview.

“I was addressed in mitigation today on your behalf by Mr MacLeod. I was told in particular of your previous good conduct, your medical history and the effect these proceedings have had upon you. With reference to the criminal justice social work report I was told of your personal circumstances and the conclusions in that report concerning future risk of offending.

“What is of note is that at no time throughout the conduct of this prosecution before me has any verification of any of the matters raised in mitigation been provided to me other than when I adjourned this morning to consider all that had been said to me and I was provided with a letter from East Renfrewshire Community Mental Health team dated 1April 2019 asking you to get in contact with them.

“As indicated to your counsel, if he had not raised the matter which resulted, as I understand it from him, in your attendance at hospital this past weekend, I would have agreed to your request as stated within the criminal justice social work report that your pregnancy not be mentioned in court. However, the matter having been raised I asked Mr MacLeod what weight I should give if any to the fact that you, at time of completion of the report, were six weeks pregnant.

“I was told that it gave an insight into your thinking and your family situation. I was urged to impose a non-custodial sentence for all the reasons specified by Mr MacLeod.

“Your fraud and deceit is of the most serious type. You were in positions of trust, albeit voluntary and not paid, and you abused those positions.

“You have, through your conduct, fallen very far short of the standards that the general public should be able to expect from not only those whom they entrust with their hard earned money to use for specific purposes but in your case their elected representative.

“Despite your knowledge of your financial position and the financial irregularities in your dealings with the organisations with which you were involved it is of note that you allowed yourself to be nominated, selected and returned as the Member of Parliament representing the people of Glasgow East constituency and the Scottish National Party from 7 May 2015.

“Your misappropriation of funds occurred between April 2013 and November 2015. Notwithstanding the ongoing investigations and your suspension from the SNP you remained as a Member of Parliament until May 2017.

“I have listened carefully to all that has been said on your behalf in relation to your circumstances and the terms of the reports prepared for me. I have taken into account the effect that your conduct has had in respect of your family and personal life and the consequences that could flow from the sentencing options before me today.

“Criminality of this sort involves multiple breaches of trust as I have described. I am satisfied firstly that your conduct was such that the custodial threshold in this case has been passed.

“I am further satisfied that despite your lack of previous offending and the matters raised on your behalf today and in the reports provided that there is no alternative sentence appropriate for you other than a custodial one.

“You have shown no remorse for your conduct. You have tried to avoid responsibility for your actions throughout, as is demonstrated by your attempt to withdraw your pleas of guilty and your continued denial of guilt in the reports prepared.

“But for your previous good conduct and personal circumstances the sentence to be imposed would have been far greater.

But for your pleas of guilty the appropriate cumulo sentence would have been 21 months’ imprisonment. That sentence will be reduced to 18 months’ imprisonment to reflect the utilitarian value of your plea.”