A FORMER SNP MP has called on Nicola Sturgeon to apologise to her after being cleared of any wrongdoing in a mortgage fraud police probe.
Michelle Thomson today lifts the lid on two years of being engulfed in the controversy surrounding a solicitor used by her defunct property firm who was found guilty of professional misconduct.
Mrs Thomson, who always denied any wrongdoing and was never under police investigation, last week found out she would not face charges after prosecutors dropped the mortgage fraud investigation due to a lack of credible evidence.
The move means Mrs Thomson – who resigned the SNP whip when police began their investigations and was then suspended from the party – is free to speak about her “unfair treatment” for the first time.
The former Edinburgh West MP, who did not stand for re-election in June, was hopeful “the SNP will now do the right thing” and said she would appreciate a “personal discussion” with the First Minister.
Asked if she wanted an apology, Mrs Thomson said: “That would be greatly appreciated”.
Quizzed on the “back-to-back” buying and selling of properties which her firm was involved in, Mrs Thomson rejected claims her company targeted vulnerable clients. Mrs Thomson wants her full SNP membership back and a return to politics, but added “the form it takes might be different”.
Reflecting on Ms Sturgeon’s involvement in her situation, Mrs Thomson said: “It has been suggested that, during this media storm, she (Sturgeon) was a relatively inexperienced leader, and that perhaps she panicked.
“But there has been quite a bit of time to put matters right and I am hopeful that the SNP will now do the right thing.
“I would appreciate a personal discussion. I understand she has a very difficult job and she does it very well.
“I recognise that but I would appreciate some kind of personal communication.”
Asked if she wanted an apology, Miss Thomson said: “That would be greatly appreciated”.
The mortgage fraud investigation centred on transactions involving Christopher Hales, a solicitor who was later struck off for professional misconduct.
There were alleged irregularities with property deals carried out on behalf of Mrs Thomson and the now defunct firm, M&F Property Solutions, which she was a partner in.
Part of the work carried out by M&F involved so-called “back-to-back” sales, where homes were bought at below full market value and then resold at far higher prices, in some cases on the same day.
Some sellers claimed they were taken advantage of by M&F, with one home bought for £245,000 and sold on the same day for £315,000, but the Crown Office ruled “there was an absence of sufficient credible and reliable evidence” to substantiate any illegality.
Mrs Thomson said: “One of the things that didn’t come out at the time was that I never had anything to do with any of the sellers.
“That side of the business, allowing sellers the opportunity to sell if they so wanted, was already running before I joined.
“My specific role was to grow the business and help find buyers who wanted houses. I never negotiated with any sellers at all.”
Asked if she benefited from that side of the business financially, Mrs Thomson said: “Yes, that is correct.”
She continued: “This was a simple website where people could make an inquiry having exhausted all other opportunities. Some people had had their house on the market for a year, then the crash came along.
“They then would decide to come to that website and say ok, if I was to sell what would you offer me? At that point, the former business partner (Frank Gilbride) would say, we could find you a buyer but they would only pay less than it is worth today.
“The reason he would do that is because the market was tumbling. At no point would I have ever been happy with trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, that was not the intention. People could easily walk away. Under no circumstances was there hard selling, it was an outrageous suggestion.”
Asked if the “back-to-back” model was morally wrong, Mrs Thomson said: “I would reject that.
“We all accept if you go to the Cash and Carry you can buy stuff cheaper than you would in Harrods. Did anyone say, ‘no I am not happy to sell at this price?’ No.
“I was part of a business. If you don’t make a certain level of profit then you could not pay your employees.
“I would be distressed to think that someone thought they were being taken advantage of – that was never the intention.” Of Mr Hales, the former conveyancing solicitor used by her firm, Mrs Thomson said the first time she knew he had been struck off was when it came out in the newspapers in September, 2015 – more than a year after the Law Society had axed him.
She explained: “That was like a bolt from the blue – I had no idea. I had not seen him for six or seven years. He was not a friend, he was a solicitor of which I was one client among many.”
The SNP’s Westminster MPs twice tried to get the party’s ruling executive to reinstate Mrs Thomson, arguing she was a loyal MP and had been denied natural justice.
Mrs Thomson indicated she regretted resigning the SNP whip and revealed she was visited by the then-chief SNP whip Mike Weir and party business convenor, now finance secretary, Derek Mackay.
“I had only been an MP for four months, Derek said, ‘we might need you to resign the whip’. I of course said, ‘I don’t want to resign the whip, I’m an SNP MP’,” she explained. “Knowing what I know now, and knowing what I knew at the time, because of course it is a matter of public record that I have done nothing wrong, if I had been more politically experienced I would have said no, why should I?
“At the time though, it is hard to exaggerate how terrified I was and I genuinely didn’t know what to do.
“I had been in the SNP for 34 years. That was a long time and I have always taken the commitment very seriously.
“So I was saying, what is the right thing to do?”
Mrs Thomson isn’t sure what form her return to politics could take, but she still feels she has a contribution to make.
Having been completely exonerated, the former IT project manager said: “I believe people are essentially fair and they understand I have been unfairly treated over a period of two years.”
Last night, an SNP spokesman said: “Michelle Thomson stepped down in 2015 until the investigation was concluded.
“She took a dignified approach while the investigation was under way and will be relieved to put this affair behind her.
“We wish her well for the future and will be happy to engage with her about her membership of the SNP.”