Former SNP MP who travelled on train after being told to self isolate pleads guilty to breaking Covid rules

·5 min read
Former SNP MP who travelled on train after being told to self isolate pleads guilty to breaking Covid rules - Jane Barlow /PA
Former SNP MP who travelled on train after being told to self isolate pleads guilty to breaking Covid rules - Jane Barlow /PA

A disgraced Scottish nationalist MP has pleaded guilty to breaching Covid rules and putting the lives of others at risk by travelling from Glasgow to London by train after being told to self-isolate.

Margaret Ferrier, the former SNP politician who now sits in the Commons as an independent after having the whip removed by the party, admitted that she culpably and recklessly exposed the public to the virus.

The 61-year-old made several journeys, including to the House of Commons where she spoke in the chamber, between September 26 and 29, 2020.

She then travelled home to Scotland by train after it was confirmed she had the virus, rather than self-isolating in London as she should have done.

Scotland was under strict restrictions at the time, which Ferrier ignored, wrongly believing her test would not be positive.

She had previously entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of culpable and reckless conduct, but entered a guilty plea before her trial got underway at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Thursday morning.

The court heard Ferrier booked a test online in late afternoon on September 26. Ferrier stated in the application that she was "symptomatic" with a "cough" she experienced that day and later attended a test centre.

Prosecutor Mark Allan said: "Ferrier subsequently failed to isolate pending the outcome of her test.

"The conduct amounted to a reckless disregard of public safety."

The hearing was told Ferrier attended a midday mass at St Mungo's parish church where she gave a reading to the congregation of 45 people.

Social distancing measures were in place and Ferrier wore a mask when she was not speaking.

Former SNP MP who travelled on train after being told to self isolate pleads guilty to breaking Covid rules - NEIL HANNA /AFP
Former SNP MP who travelled on train after being told to self isolate pleads guilty to breaking Covid rules - NEIL HANNA /AFP

Ferrier then attended Vic's Bar in Prestwick, more than 30 miles from her home in Cambuslang, where she stayed for two-and-a-half hours.

Mr Allan said: "After media reporting of Ferrier testing positive on the proceeding day, the general manager was concerned about her staff and customers' health and the impact upon the business in difficult times for the hospitality industry."

Ferrier took a 10-to-15-minute taxi journey from her home in South Lanarkshire, to Glasgow Central station the next day while wearing a face mask.

The politician entered a Marks and Spencer at the station before boarding a train with 183 people on board to London Euston.

Ferrier checked into the Park Plaza Hotel, Westminster Bridge, before attending the Houses of Parliament at 7.15pm.

Mr Allan said: "She spoke in the chamber of the Commons where social distancing was in operation and apart from when speaking, she wore a face mask."

Ferrier sat at a table usually allocated for SNP members with DUP MP Jim Shannon, who is now aged 67, where they conversed for 20 minutes.

Former SNP MP who travelled on train after being told to self isolate pleads guilty to breaking Covid rules - HANDOUT/AFP
Former SNP MP who travelled on train after being told to self isolate pleads guilty to breaking Covid rules - HANDOUT/AFP

Mr Allan said: "The positive result from the test was delivered at 8.03pm by text and email.

"She attended the SNP whips' office and spoke to then chief whip Patrick Grady MP.

"She informed Mr Grady that she would return to Scotland in the morning."

Ferrier returned to her hotel at 9.20pm where she spent the night before heading back to London Euston.

The hearing was told at its busiest time, the train held 153 passengers.

Contact tracers for NHS Test and Protect attempted to contact Ferrier on four occasions but were unable to do so, leaving two voicemails.

Ferrier later contacted Test and Protect and disclosed that she had a "slight and infrequent cough" the day before her test.

Mr Allan added: "She said she did not believe that she would be positive."

Ferrier then informed Mr Grady and the Parliamentary Test and Trace service that she was positive.

This led to Mr Shannon being ordered to take a test and isolate in his hotel room, but he later tested negative.

Mr Grady was told the following day at a meeting at the Speaker's Office in the House of Commons that Ferrier's actions required to be reported to the police.

'I deeply regret my actions'

Ferrier contacted police and informed them of her breach before sending out a statement on her social media.

She said: "Despite feeling well, I should have self-isolated while waiting for my test result and deeply regret my actions.

"I take full responsibility and I urge everyone not to make the same mistakes that I have and do all they can to limit the spread of Covid-19."

An initial investigation from Metropolitan Police was handed over to Police Scotland.

Public health expert Dr Andrew Riley told the police that Ferrier "significantly increased the risk of harm to both individual and public health."

Ferrier handed herself in to police on January 4, 2020 where she was arrested.

Brian McConnachie QC, defending, reserved his plea in mitigation.

Sentence was deferred pending background reports by Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull until next month.

Despite facing calls to stand down from Nicola Sturgeon, who described the actions of her then MP as “dangerous and indefensible”, Ferrier has refused to give up her Rutherglen and Hamilton West seat, which she first won in 2015.

Ferrier could also face a recall petition if she is suspended from the House of Commons for 10 or more sitting days.

Whether a recall petition could be triggered will depend on the sentence Ferrier receives. A petition can be held if an MP is convicted of any offence and is sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The maximum sentence a Sheriff Court can impose is five years in jail.

If a petition was triggered, a by-election would be held if 10 per cent of eligible voters in the constituency sign it.

A by-election would be closely contested between the SNP and Scottish Labour.

Ferrier came within 265 votes of losing the seat to Labour at the 2017 election, although she increased her majority to 5,230 in 2019.