Sturgeon’s book publisher facing fraud probe after firm handed £300k of public money

Nicola Sturgeon: 'No lessons in democracy' says CEO

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Sandstone, run by Robert Davidson, a nationalist and SNP supporter, was given £120,000 in the 12 months leading up to the publication of Ms Sturgeon’s book, which was promoted during May’s Holyrood election.

Keith Charters, managing director of book firm Strident Publishing, wrote to the First Minister warning of concerns over Sandstone.

His subsequent police complaint, now the subject of an investigation, involves allegations of wrongdoing directed at both the publisher and HIE.

As well as the £120,000 of grants given last year, police are probing £175,000 of loans agreed with the company in 2019 which are all understood to have been drawn down.

Over the last 15 years Sandstone has benefited from over £500,000 of public money when grants from Creative Scotland are also taken into account.

The publisher is accused of making false statements about the number of people employed.

HIE is alleged to have wrongly recorded the location of the firm which increased its eligibility for financial support.

Mr Charters alleged that HIE gave the firm a funding score which suggests they were based outside Inverness, increasing it’s eligibility for support.

Speaking to the Daily Record, Mr Charters said: “To date over £500,000 of public money has been used to prop up Sandstone Press.

“That includes the £120,000 it received in the 10 months prior to announcing it would be publishing a book of Nicola Sturgeon’s speeches in the week of the Scottish Parliament election.

“It is deeply concerning that, when we blew the whistle on how HIE had provided Sandstone with that £120,000 – when we provided the First Minister with detailed evidence of suspected wrongdoing – the response of her officials was to vilify us for daring to challenge on the basis of the evidence.”

Mr Charters has also launched an appeal for a judicial review of some of the grant cash handed over by HIE.

Scottish Tory culture spokesman Donald Cameron also told the outlet: “There are serious questions for the SNP Government to answer.

“The SNP Government was made aware of concerns surrounding this significant amount of public money just before the election period kicked off.

“They must be fully transparent over what checks were carried out at that time and why they believed it was still appropriate for public money to be given to the company who then published the book of Nicola Sturgeon’s speeches.”

The book includes a collection of the First Minister’s speeches given between November 2014 and February 2020 and is edited by Sandstone boss Mr Davidson.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman declined to comment on the police investigation.

She said: “Given there is a police complaint, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the Scottish Government to comment.”

Editor’s notes claim the book is being published and financed independent of any public body, with no funding received for the book.

Sandstone Press said: “We have not been contacted by Police Scotland. All funds received from HIE have come through due process.”

HIE said it would defend any allegations robustly, adding: “We’ve not been contacted by Police Scotland in relation to any issues concerning Sandstone Press.

“An application to commence judicial review proceedings has been made to the Court of Session and HIE intends to defend this robustly.”

A Government response to Mr Charters’ letter stated: “Highlands and Islands Enterprise are comfortable their approvals of funding are compliant.”

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