McGarry trial hears pro-independence group employee ‘was lied to over finances’

Kathleen Caskie described a WFI finance report written by McGarry as ‘gobbledygook’.

Katharine Hay
Tuesday 19 April 2022 17:01
The trial of em-MP Natalie McGarry continues (Danny Lawson/PA)
The trial of em-MP Natalie McGarry continues (Danny Lawson/PA)

A woman has said she was repeatedly lied to by former MP Natalie McGarry about the financial running of a pro-Scottish independence group they were both part of.

Kathleen Caskie was employed by Women For Independence (WFI) in the lead-up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and continued to work in the running of the organisation on a voluntary basis afterwards.

The 56-year-old told a jury she was “being given the runaround” by the former MP, who was treasurer for the group at the time, over some of WFI’s financial matters.

Former SNP MP Natalie McGarry (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Ms Caskie was called to give evidence at the trial of McGarry, 40, who is accused of misappropriating more than £25,000 from two campaign groups, including WFI.

McGarry, who represented Glasgow East for the SNP, allegedly embezzled £21,000 while treasurer for WFI between April 26 2013 and November 30 2015.

It is also alleged that she transferred cash made from fundraising events into her own personal accounts and failed to send donations intended for Perth and Kinross foodbank and the charity Positive Prisons.

A second charge states McGarry took £4,661 between April 9 2014 and August 10 2015 when she was treasurer, secretary and convenor of Glasgow Regional Association (GRA) of the SNP.

McGarry denies the charges.

At a hearing at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Tuesday, Ms Caskie, who said she has known McGarry since she was a child, was asked about several WFI debts.

The court saw an email from Stirling Council chasing payment for venue hire for an event WFI hosted in 2015.

The email, from a representative at the council addressed to Ms Caskie, read: “I need to speak to you about an invoice that remains outstanding for £326.40.”

Looking at the email, the witness said: “This was really embarrassing.”

She told the court: “I was lied to.

“I was told cheques had been sent, cheques had been sent, cheques had been sent.

“I was thrown into panic.

“I became really cross.

“Natalie was telling me rubbish that she had sent cheques and none of it was true.”

Prosecutor Alastair Mitchell said: “You had been told by Natalie that this event had been paid for?”

Ms Caskie replied: “Yes. Several times. I was being given the runaround and I was really angry.”

The court was shown a financial report prepared by McGarry ahead of the WFI’s AGM in 2015, which Ms Caskie described as “embarrassing”.

Mr Mitchell asked her to explain why it was embarrassing, to which she replied: “It just wasn’t up to scratch.

“It wasn’t what you would expect any intelligent person to write.

“It was just weirdness.”

She added: “It certainly wasn’t the format I was expecting, it was just numbers and sentences.”

Ms Caskie told the court the report was “gobbledygook”.

The jury were then shown an email between McGarry and Ms Caskie on March 14 2015 agreeing to pay a total sum of £326 to the charity Positive Prisons (PP), which was about half of a sum of money they had raised through a bucket donation.

Several subsequent email exchanges were shown where Pete White of PP thanked WFI for its donation and provided the charity’s bank details, which were then forwarded by Ms Caskie to McGarry with a request for her to make the donation.

The jury were then shown an email dated April 13 2015 from Mr White saying he was “concerned there has been some sort of breakdown in communication following your kind donation” and went on to explain the charity had not received the payment.

Looking at the document on display in court, Ms Caskie said: “Natalie was responsible.

“I was angry.

“It was embarrassing for me.

“Natalie was responsible for paying the donation to that charity.”

Mr Mitchell said: “Is it a matter of agreement that that charity never received that payment? Were you aware of that?”

Ms Caskie said: “Well I am aware now, and that’s a shame.

“I was being told pillar to post cheques were being paid.”

She told the court she was “being played for an absolute fool”.

Allan Macleod, defending, read out a written statement from Ms Caskie to Police Scotland where she described WFI as being run in a “chaotic fashion” by McGarry and former WFI member Shona McAlpine.

The witness agreed, telling court “it was chaotic as decisions were not being made properly through the committee”, adding there was a “great need for greater order”.

The jury were then shown an email from former member and co-found of WFI Carolyn Leckie in which she said there was “too much pressure on Shona and particularly Natalie”.

Macleod, referencing the email, asked the witness if this was the case, to which Ms Caskie replied: “Broadly, yes.”

She told the court: “It became clear that Natalie was not capable of managing financial matters.”

Macleod questioned the witness as to why McGarry remained in charge of WFI finances until 2015 to which Ms Caskie said: “No one could get anything off her.

“No one could get passwords, receipts.

“It was like we were being held at ransom.”

Macleod then showed an email from Ms Caskie addressed to former WFI member Margaret Young which she sent before the group’s finances were handed over to her daughter, Elizabeth, to look at.

It read: “The WFI finances are in chaos and Natalie has completely lost all control, she has not been paying bills, has no idea what’s going in and what’s going out etc.

“Elizabeth might be handed an absolute dog’s breakfast and won’t know where to start.”

He put to the witness that this showed McGarry was struggling with the group’s finances, to which Ms Caskie said, “Yes”.

The court heard Ms Caskie’s wages were being paid directly from McGarry’s account.

The witness said she “wasn’t aware at the time”, and if she was, she “didn’t think anything of it” and that it was down to “some sort of an arrangement” among those dealing with the groups finances.

The trial, before Sheriff Tom Hughes, continues.

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