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Disgraced ex-SNP MP Margaret Ferrier spared jail for Covid breach – but could still lose seat

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 13/09/2022 Daniel Sanderson
Margaret Ferrier - Jane Barlow/ PA © Jane Barlow/ PA Margaret Ferrier - Jane Barlow/ PA

A disgraced Scottish nationalist MP has been spared jail for breaking Covid rules, but still faces losing her Commons seat if she is handed a lengthy suspension from Parliament.

Margaret Ferrier, who was elected as an SNP MP and now sits as an independent, was ordered to carry out 270 hours of unpaid work after she admitted putting the lives of others at risk by ignoring orders to self-isolate in September 2020.

The 62-year-old admitted she had culpably and recklessly exposed the public "to the risk of infection, illness and death" at a hearing at Glasgow Sheriff Court last month.

The Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP took a Covid test after experiencing symptoms of the virus, but rather than isolate, she visited several businesses and a church in her local area and then took a train from Glasgow to London.

She then attended Parliament, speaking in the Commons, and conversed for 20 minutes with DUP MP Jim Shannon, who is now aged 67, at a time when Covid vaccines were not yet available. After learning she had the virus, she then travelled by train back to Glasgow, rather than self-isolate in London.

Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull told Ferrier that he had decided against imposing a prison sentence, which would have automatically triggered a recall petition, on Tuesday morning.

However, her constituents would still have the opportunity to oust her if she is suspended from the Commons for 10 sitting days or more. 

MPs, who would ultimately decide the length of any suspension following a recommendation by the Commons Standards Committee, are likely to take a dim view of Ferrier’s actions.

Sheriff Turnbull told Ferrier: "You wilfully disregarded the guidance and did not self-isolate after your test.

"Your behaviour was deliberate and extended over a number of days. The gravity of harm that could have resulted from your actions could have been significant."

Ferrier - wearing a face-mask in court - went on to confirm to the sheriff that she would agree to the terms of the community payback order.

A recall petition would be only the fourth in UK history, under a system introduced in 2015, in the wake of the expenses scandal, allowing voters to remove MPs.

A by-election would then be held if 10 per cent of her constituents in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, where there is considerable public anger at her actions, sign a petition to oust her within a six-week period. If the threshold is reached Ferrier would be forced to vacate her seat.

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Scottish Labour insiders have said the party would “throw the kitchen sink” at winning the constituency, in what would be the first electoral test of Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to hold a new independence referendum next year.

Labour came within less than 300 votes of winning the constituency in 2017, before Ms Ferrier increased her majority to 5,230 at the last election.

The SNP whip was removed after her Covid rule breach and Ms Sturgeon called on her to stand down, calling her actions “dangerous and indefensible.”

However, she has continued to ignore calls to quit her £84,144-per-year post. 

Ms Ferrier’s lawyer, Brian McConnachie, told the court the MP had had "convinced herself" the test would be negative and that there would be no danger. There had then been "uncontrolled panic" when it came back positive.

"There have been a number of high profile cases down south having been dealt with in a different manner,” Mr McConnachie said.

"I recognise that, in some ways, they are different [from Ferrier]. On one view less serious, but, on another, more so in that there were public gatherings taking place for fun effectively."

The KC said 34 testimonials had been written on Ferrier's behalf, including one from Mr Shannon. He added Ferrier will likely lose her seat at the next election due to her being an independent.

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