• Several former party leaders have been arrested since 2000, including Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, and ex-SNP head Alex Salmond.
  • Mr Salmond had also served as the First Minister of Scotland prior to his arrest.

The arrest of former Scottish National Party (SNP) Leader Nicola Sturgeon on Sunday triggered a number of claims about police dealings with UK political figures.

One claim that was shared widely on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram said:

“Nicola Sturgeon is the first former FM or PM to be arrested in the history of the UK. She is the first former or current leader of a major party to be arrested since Jeremy Thorpe in the 1970s. She is the first SNP MSP to be arrested since Wednesday 19 April.”

This is mostly inaccurate.

Former or current leaders of major political parties who have been arrested since 1978 include Alex Salmond and Gerry Adams.

Mr Salmond’s arrest came after his seven-year stint as First Minister of Scotland.

The claim itself reads as satire – it has the structure of a joke – but that doesn’t mean everyone who sees it will take it that way. On a factual basis, only the punchline is true. Ms Sturgeon is the first SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) to be arrested since 19 April. The other two aspects are false.

  • What happened on 11 June?

Nicola Sturgeon was arrested in the morning, but released without charge six hours later, pending further inquiries.

Ms Sturgeon led the Scottish National Party (SNP) for over eight years, stepping down on 27 March 2023. She remains a Member of the Scottish Parliament and, at the time of her arrest, was still an SNP backbencher for Glasgow Southside.

  • Jeremy Thorpe

One-time Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe was arrested in 1978 and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. In May 1979, Thorpe was acquitted at trial.

Having resigned as party leader three years earlier, he lost his North Devon seat at the General Election a few days before his trial began.

  • Other political big dogs and the long arm of the law

Contrary to the claim, several former party leaders have been arrested since the 1970s. These include Ms Sturgeon’s former SNP colleague Alex Salmond and the then President of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams.

Salmond was arrested on 24 January 2019. He was charged with 14 offences, including two counts of attempted rape, nine of sexual assault, two of indecent assault, and one of breach of the peace. The trial was held in March 2020. The jury found him not guilty of 12 charges, one charge was dropped by prosecutors earlier in the trial and one charge was found not proven.

Mr Adams was the President of Sinn Féin from 1983 until 2018. On 30 April 2014, Adams was arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville. He was released without charge after four days in custody. At that time, Sinn Féin was the sixth largest party at Westminster, winning five seats in the 2010 General Election (just one seat short of the SNP tally) and was the second-largest party in Stormont.

Former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Leader Lord Bannside was no stranger to a cell back when he was simply Rev. Ian Paisley. He was arrested several times and, in the 1960s, spent three months in Crumlin Road Prison for unlawful assembly.

However, many of his arrests took place before the DUP was founded in 1971 under his leadership, and while at least one arrest did take place after this – on 10 May 1977, during the United Unionist Action Council general strike – this predates Jeremy Thorpe’s arrest.

Mr Paisley was not arrested after becoming First Minister. However, that part of the claim is still demonstrably false because Alex Salmond served as the First Minister of Scotland between 2007 and 2014.