Scottish MP who ‘Wilfully Ignored’ COVID-19 Rules Avoids Jail Sentence

Scottish MP who ‘Wilfully Ignored’ COVID-19 Rules Avoids Jail Sentence
MP Margaret Ferrier speaks in the House of Commons in London on Oct. 28, 2020, while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test which turned out positive. (Parliament TV)
Chris Summers

An MP who travelled by train from London to Scotland after testing positive for COVID-19 has avoided a jail sentence and been ordered to do 270 hours of community service.

On Tuesday a judge at Glasgow Sheriff Court told Margaret Ferrier, 62, she had “wilfully ignored” the rules but he felt it was inappropriate to send her to jail.

Last month Ferrier admitted culpably and recklessly exposing the public “to the risk of infection, illness and death” by travelling in September 2020, at the height of the pandemic, after testing positive for the virus.
Ferrier was elected as an SNP MP in December 2019 but has had the whip withdrawn and has been urged by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to “do the right thing” and resign.

MP ‘Wilfully Disregarded Guidance and Travelled by Train’

Imposing a community payback order on her, Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull told her: “The public rightly expect the people elected to represent them to set an example. You wilfully ignored the rules and did not isolate. Having tested positive you wilfully disregarded guidance and travelled by train.”

“It cannot be overlooked that your behaviour took place at a time of significant restrictions and before the vaccination programme had begun,” Turnbull added.

He told her the community payback order was the only alternative to custody and that she would go to jail if she did not complete the 270 hours of unpaid work within nine months.

Ferrier was first elected as MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West in 2015 but lost the seat to Labour’s Ged Killen in 2017, only to win it back two years later. She has a majority of 5,230 and is currently sitting as an independent.

Sturgeon is on record as calling Ferrier’s actions “dangerous and indefensible.”

Her advocate, Brian McConnachie, KC, told the court: “The brevity of her symptoms she had experienced led her to the situation that she was convinced that the result of her test would be negative and then, demonstrating for her a remarkable lack of thought and a remarkable lack of consideration for others, she then went about her normal business.”

McConnachie said she suffered “uncontrolled panic” when she tested positive and sought to get home as soon as possible so she could self-isolate.

Ferrier travelled from Scotland to London and spoke in the House of Commons after taking the test and then, after being told she had tested positive, she travelled back to Glasgow on the train.

McConnachie said she had shown remorse for her actions.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, has described her actions as “reckless,” and The Scotsman newspaper called her a hypocrite because she had earlier criticised Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings after he was accused of breaching the restrictions by travelling to Barnard Castle in County Durham.

PA Media contributed to this report.
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.
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