AN SNP MSP has described the police investigation into the SNP finances as a “public show” and said manpower was being misused in the probe.

James Dornan went onto say he hoped the inquiry would be completed by the time the new chief constable, named today as Jo Farrell, takes charge in mid August when Sir Iain Livingstone retires.

Mr Dornan, who represents Glasgow Cathcart, questioned the use of public funds which have been spent on the two year probe pointing out his constituents regularly complained to him that police officers were unable to investigate some matters due to stretched resources. 

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He criticised the major police presence outside former former first minister Nicola Sturgeon's house near Glasgow when her husband Peter Murrell was arrested and the property searched in April. Mr Murrell was later released without charge pending further inquiries. On the same day as the couple's home was searched, around 20 officers carried out a search of the SNP's headquarters in Edinburgh.

Ms Sturgeon was arrested last Sunday as part of the same investigation, Operation Branchform, which is investigating complaints about how more than £600,000 of money raised through online appeals was spent. She was released without charge. Two weeks after Mr Murrell's arrest the SNP treasurer Colin Beattie was arrested and released without charge.

"I think the investigation has been very heavy handed and I can't think of a comparative case where they've had the same level of resources put into it," said Mr Dornan.

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"Investigations should cost as much as investigations cost but I would like to know at a time when….the police say they don't have the manpower to deal with certain issues, they have the manpower to send dozens of officers to Nicola's house. There seems to be a misuse of existing manpower.

"I get issues [raised by constituents] regularly about how long it takes for police to come, reports that they will not attend certain things. Now you find there are so many police sitting around doing nothing that they can all go to Nicola's house."

The Herald asked Mr Dornan if he would like to see the investigation wound up before Sir Iain retires and Ms Farrell takes over.

The Herald:

Police Scotland chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone.  Photo PA.

He said: "They should do it as thoroughly and as speedily as possible. Just now it seems more of a public show than an investigation.

"I would like to know why there's been long delays between the questioning. Peter was taken months ago. Colin a while after that and now Nicola.

"It seems like a dragged out process...people are having things hanging over them for such a long time with damage to their careers and personal life."

He added: "Police investigations take as long as they take but they should be done as efficiently as possible. It would be a nice.. for the new chief constable if they don't have this hanging over their head."

The Herald:

SNP MSP James Dornan, centre, pictured in Holyrood.    Photo Getty.

Mr Dornan's criticisms of the investigation follows those made by Murray Foote, the former SNP communications chief at Holyrood, and Noel Dolan, a former aide to Ms Sturgeon.

Mr Foote described the search of Ms Sturgeon's home as “a grotesque circus”. He also compared the ongoing probe to the failed Rangers prosecution and said it could end up a "wild goose chase" and result in questions about the police's actions.

In an interview with The Herald last month Sir Iain defended his force's action and dismissed accusations of heavy handedness.

Mr Livingstone said: "Media commentators, individuals are obviously entirely at liberty to say what they wish to say. It is wholly inaccurate to suggest that there's any other motivation or intent from our inquiry other than to do the right thing.

"We would be in neglect of duty. I as chief constable would be in neglect of duty if we didn't follow the investigation to establish what's happened. In the fullness of time the evidence will be assessed and will be passed to the independent prosecutors and again that is the right thing to do.

The Herald:

Officers from Police Scotland pictured about to enter and search the SNP's headquarters in Edinburgh in April.  Photo PA.

"But in the meantime it is a live investigation and I personally feel we should respect the integrity of that investigation."

Mr Livingstone would not say whether he believed Police Scotland's Operation Branchform would be completed by the time he left the force in August.

"I can't put any time limit on that," he said. "The investigation will take its course. It shouldn't be driven by political timescales and it shouldn't be driven by personal timescales that I have or any other officer has."

In a separate interview with LBC, which was released today, Mr Dornan compared the recent police search of Ms Sturgeon's home to a notorious investigation into a 1990s serial killer.

He said the end result was "like Fred West's house" - a reference to the 1994 search of a Gloucester property belonging to serial killers Fred and Rose West.

Dornan made the comments on an episode The News Agents filmed in Glasgow and released today.

During the programe he raised concerns about leaks from the police investigation to newspapers though he told The Herald he didn't believe there was collusion between the police and the media.

"There is clearly someone in the police service leaking stuff to the media," he said.

"Either the media, one newspaper in particular, is being very lucky or..they have someone telling them things. I think I know which one makes more sense."

Sir Iain dramatically announced he was quitting as chief constable in February, two years ahead of his contract ending.

At the time, he warned his force was facing 'unsustainable' funding pressures. He had previously said his officers would no longer be able to investigate certain crimes due to budgetary pressures and 'systemic under-funding'.