Scotland’s top civil servant has been accused of ‘dodging basic questions’ about whether Nicola Sturgeon had told him she or her husband were being investigated by police.
But he ignored the question for a month before treating it as a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Government officials then claimed not to know the answer.
Police Scotland searched Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell’s house in April as part of a probe into the SNP’s finances. Mr Murrell was arrested and later released pending further investigation.
Hours after the arrest, Labour MSP Daniel Johnson wrote to the Permanent Secretary asking if the former SNP leader had informed him of any police investigation.
Permanent Secretary John-Paul Marks (pictured) was asked if the former First Minister had disclosed that she and former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell were subject to a police probe
Police Scotland searched Ms Sturgeon (left) and Mr Murrell’s (right) house in April as part of a probe into the SNP’s finances. Mr Murrell was arrested and later released pending further investigation
Hours after the arrest, Labour MSP Daniel Johnson (pictured) wrote to the Permanent Secretary asking if the former SNP leader had informed him of any police investigation
Chief defends Sturgeon tent
By Graham Grant
The search of Nicola Sturgeon’s home as part of the police fraud probe was ‘proportionate and necessary’, Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone has said.
A security tent was erected on the lawn outside the house, a move that was seen by some SNP figures as excessive and highly damaging as the images were seen around the world – and many viewers would normally associate the use of a tent with a murder inquiry.
Sir Iain told the Sunday Times he was satisfied the processes put in place during the Operation Branchform probe into SNP finances were ‘proportionate and necessary’.
Asked if he had approved the decision to erect the tent, Sir Iain said: ‘I was aware of it and was supportive of it because I knew the circumstances and the rationale for utilising it, and part of it was to protect rights of individuals.’
He wrote: ‘There is significant public interest in this case which is why transparency is important.
‘I would appreciate if you can clarify whether the former First Minister advised you of Police Scotland’s interest in either her or her husband, Peter Murrell.’
The Government eventually replied a month later and said it was treating his letter as a request for information under FOI laws.
On May 5, an official replied: ‘In response to your request, the Scottish Government does not have the information requested.’
Mr Johnson said: ‘This entire debacle is shrouded in the secrecy we have all come to expect from the SNP. The public deserve to know who knew what and when. The Scottish Government must stop dodging basic questions and come clean.’
Tory MSP Craig Hoy added: ‘It’s disappointing but not surprising that John-Paul Marks has avoided questions about the circumstances surrounding the probe into the SNP’s finances.
‘Shunning scrutiny and saying nothing is the party’s default position whenever there are awkward questions – and it now appears the civil service is adopting a similar strategy.
‘But this is a major criminal investigation, and this approach won’t cut it with the police.
‘Everyone questioned by Police Scotland has a duty to fully cooperate.
‘As Scotland’s top civil servant, John-Paul Marks must stop dodging legitimate questions on the issue and be transparent with both the police and the public.
‘He must come clean on whether Nicola Sturgeon told him about the police investigation into both herself and her husband.’
The Scottish Government said: ‘Given there is a live police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment.’
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon added: ‘It is not appropriate to comment on a live police investigation.’