The former SNP, and now independent, MP Margaret Ferrier was today arrested and charged with culpable and reckless conduct, a crime carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, for making a return train journey between Glasgow and London in September last year, two days after taking a coronavirus test.
This site has no comment to make on the charges, as it’s a live criminal matter, but a couple of questions do arise from their existence.
Ferrier got onto trains in both London and Glasgow. On the Glasgow-London one she didn’t know she was positive, on the London-Glasgow one she did. The Metropolitan Police investigated the breach at the London end and decided last October, within a few days of the events becoming known, that no action was required.
But now Police Scotland have charged her over (presumably, since we don’t see how they can have any jurisdiction over London train stations) the outward journey on 28 September, when she had symptoms but didn’t know that they were down to the virus rather than just a cold. It has taken them over three months to do so, even though the facts were known almost immediately and Ferrier confessed exactly what she’d done.
We’re unable to imagine what can have taken so long. Police Scotland had nothing to “investigate” – they knew the facts in October, admitted publicly by Ferrier herself, and they knew what the law was.
It WASN’T coronavirus law, though. The requirement not to travel for anyone with a positive test result, as Ferrier had on the return leg, was law in England but only guidance in Scotland, and which she was therefore not obliged to follow.
Accordingly, Ferrier hasn’t actually been charged under coronavirus legislation at all – because she didn’t breach any in Scotland – but under pre-existing laws, despite the fact that literally thousands of people have done the same thing without being arrested under those laws, most notably the Prince Of Wales.
While nobody is publicly known to have contracted the virus via Ferrier, a number of the Prince’s staff at Birkhall were placed in self-isolation after contact with him.
And nobody has arrested George Galloway, who boasted in advance about crossing the border with a small child in tow before Christmas, posted photographic evidence and taunted the police about it, and when he got to Scotland was then seen at a football match despite all fans being banned under Tier 4 rules, for which the club face severe sanctions but Galloway apparently doesn’t.
Anyone actually obeying COVID-19 laws could still find themselves at risk of arrest if the police decide that they risked the wellbeing of others by their actions, and that decision appears to be completely arbitrary. It is difficult to see why it was not applied, for example, to Dominic Cummings, whose extremely high-profile actions are widely believed to have undermined public compliance with lockdown rules, or why actual coronavirus legislation was not applied to Galloway, who was NOT travelling for work, has (to put it very mildly) shown no remorse and could easily be seen as encouraging further lawbreaking by others.
We offer no defence of Ferrier, who did a very stupid thing, apologised profusely for it, willingly accepted responsibility – which includes criminal liability – and must now face the consequences. We just can’t help finding the timing of these events, the difference of opinion between the Metropolitan and Scottish police over the same offence, and the extreme selectiveness of the prosecution very peculiar.
But we know Nicola Sturgeon wanted Ferrier to stand down as an MP. Ferrier refused. And now she’s suddenly been arrested more than three months after admitting to the crime. We wonder if anyone has checked Peter Murrell’s phone for text messages.