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MP who exposed public to Covid must do unpaid work

BBC News 13/09/2022
Margaret Ferrier spoke in the House of Commons while awaiting the results of a Covid test © BBC Margaret Ferrier spoke in the House of Commons while awaiting the results of a Covid test

An MP who travelled by train despite knowing she had Covid has been ordered to carry out 270 hours of community service.

Margaret Ferrier spoke in parliament in September 2020 while awaiting the results of a Covid test.

She then took the train home to Glasgow after being told she had tested positive.

Ferrier had previously pled guilty to culpably and recklessly exposing the public to the virus.

The charge stated that she had failed to self-isolate and had "exposed people to risk of infection, illness and death".

Prosecutors told Glasgow Sheriff Court that her conduct had shown a "reckless disregard of public safety".

Ferrier was an SNP MP at the time of the offence, but subsequently lost the party whip and has been sitting in the Commons as an independent. She has so far resisted calls to stand down.

Ordering Ferrier to carry out 270 hours of unpaid work within the next nine months, Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull said she had "wilfully disregarded guidance" by not self-isolating after her test.

He added: "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."

The MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West took a Covid test on Saturday 26 September 2020 because she had a "slight cough", but did not believe she would be positive.

She went to church in Glasgow on the Sunday while still awaiting the result of her test and gave a reading to the congregation of 45 people, before later spending more than two hours in a bar in Prestwick, Ayrshire.

Ferrier then took a taxi from her home to Glasgow Central Station on the Monday and travelled to London on a train which had 183 passengers on board.

She spoke in the Commons at about 19:30 that evening before going to sit at a table with DUP MP Jim Shannon, where they conversed for 20 minutes.

'Infrequent cough'

The positive result from her Covid test was delivered at 20:03 by text and email. Ms Ferrier attended the SNP whips' office and told then chief whip Patrick Grady MP that she would be returning to Scotland in the morning.

After spending the night in her London hotel - where she should have isolated for two weeks under the rules in place at the time - she caught the train home to Glasgow.

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

She later contacted the service and disclosed that she had a "slight and infrequent cough" the day before her test.

Her defence advocate, Brian McConnachie KC, described Ferrier's actions as having been "48 hours of poor decisions in a lifetime of otherwise complete observance and upholding of the law".

Mr McConnachie said she had convinced herself the test would be negative and that there would be no danger, and that there had been "uncontrolled panic" when it came back positive.

He added: "She is 62-year-old lady, a genuine first offender, who has contributed significantly to the constituency in which she resides and to the country with her service as an MP", and said she would "almost certainly" lose her seat at the next general election.

The court had received 34 testimonials and letters in support of Ms Ferrier from other MPs - including Mr Shannon, who tested negative after his conversation with Ms Ferrier - as well as constituents and staff.

© BBC

Margaret Ferrier has been spared a prison sentence, but that doesn't mean her future as an MP is necessarily safe.

Had she been jailed, she could have been open to a recall petition - which would have triggered a by-election if 10% of her constituents signed up.

This could still happen if she faces sanction from the House of Commons authorities, who could investigate her conduct now that the police process is over.

If the standards watchdog suspends her from the Commons for 10 sittings days, that could also trigger a recall petition.

Of course the other route out of parliament would be if Ms Ferrier heeded the calls of all political parties and resigned.

However there is no sign she is minded to quit - she spoke in the House as recently as last week, asking questions of ministers about child maintenance payments.

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