POLICE raids on the home of a former first minister and the headquarters of the party she led until just weeks ago.

Officers in open view carrying boxes and surrounded by more tents than Glastonbury. Twitter awash with dark rumours and wild hints.

It was a considerable understatement when Kirsty Wark on Newsnight on Wednesday described it as a “day of drama”.

What looked like the sort of massive police operation more normally associated with the search for murder victims rather than a financial investigation ended with a man in custody being freed without charge.

Of course, we need to pay heed to the dire warnings posted on social media throughout the day pointing out that the investigation into SNP finances is now defined as “live” and woe betide anyone wandering into contempt of court territory.

We need to be careful what we say.

So we need to be clear that Peter Murrell, the SNP’s former chief executive and the husband of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, has been found guilty of precisely nothing, although he has been sentenced to time in that legal no man’s land between being publicly named as a suspect in a police investigation and not a single shred of evidence being put in the public domain.

Indeed, the Contempt of Court Act specifically forbids the publication of any evidence, or any speculation about that evidence, or even the existence of that evidence, for fear of influencing the outcome of any court proceedings.

So we are expected to believe that Wednesday’s dramatic scenes, broadcast into millions of homes across the UK, will have no role in shaping public perception of Peter Murrell or indeed the SNP – and yet a random obscure tweet could bring an entire criminal investigation crashing to the ground?

I have no clue, obviously, about the truth or otherwise of any allegations being levelled against Murrell and would not comment on that even if I did.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf hits out at 'conspiracy theories' over Peter Murrell arrest

And I’m not for a second suggesting the media should have been prevented from reporting fully and freely on Wednesday’s searches or from broadcasting footage of those searches taking place.

Any restrictions on that would have been a gross attack on press freedom.

But the Contempt of Court Act itself limits the ability of a free media to fully report on this matter.

We cannot know, for instance, if the police had any evidence to justify the searches or the surprising scale of the police operation, or whether it was merely a fishing exercise.

We can’t even be sure we are on safe ground asking those questions, although I guess time will tell on that score.

The National: Police removing items from SNP HQ in EdinburghPolice removing items from SNP HQ in Edinburgh (Image: PA)

We need also to remember that the police themselves are subject to the same restrictions on the information they release, so the restrictions on free reporting are not their fault.

I’m an SNP member and an independence supporter and freely admit to concern over the impact of yesterday’s scenes on the campaign for independence.

It seems to me that any fall-out from recent arguments has been restricted to affecting the SNP rather than support for independence itself, which is remaining relatively steady.

Nevertheless, I remain worried about anything that could make independence less likely. But I’m more worried about the truth.

As a journalist, I believe passionately in transparency and the public’s right to know.

That transparency includes the right to know much more about those searches and the way they were carried out than is currently in the public domain.

Warnings about contempt of court restrictions began appearing on social media early on Wednesday.

Roddy Dunlop KC, the dean of the Faculty of Advocates, tweeted that “Contempt of court protections are triggered, in Scotland, once an arrest has been made. Please take care.”

Such statements may be cloaked as public service warnings but they can also serve as threats.

READ MORE: Stephen Flynn: Shock to see forensic police tent in SNP probe

A police statement announcing Murrell’s release on Wednesday night ended by saying: “The matter remains active for the purpose of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and the public are therefore advised to exercise caution if discussing it on social media As the investigation is ongoing we are unable to comment further.”

So if Murrell’s arrest triggers Contempt of Court Act restrictions, what brings them to an end?

According to the police, they continue despite the fact Murrell has been released and has not been charged. That means we remain in danger by even discussing the matter, a danger again spelled out on social media by Dunlop when he said: “Your tweet will, unless deleted, be available forever. What might seem ok today might not be tomorrow.”

And he said: “Commenting on ongoing criminal proceedings requires extreme caution and, to be frank, is best avoided.’’

Social media being what it is, many people completely ignored that advice.

Many – including some independence supporters – openly celebrated Murrell’s arrest and what they described as his – and his wife’s – downfall.

READ MORE: Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon's garden: No evidence of police 'digging'

Many more made statements looking at what they believed were the political implications of the searches themselves rather than of anyone being found guilty of any wrongdoing related to them.

Let’s look at the reaction of former first minister Alex Salmond, for instance. After Murrell was arrested Salmond told reporters: “I led the SNP for a long time, so I’m very sad about what’s happening to it, and indeed what it’s become.’’

What happened to presumption of innocence?

Then there was endless speculation about Nicola Sturgeon and what she knew about the matter and about the raids.

Did she know about her husband’s pending arrest in advance? (She says she didn’t). Did it influence her recent decision to stand down? (Again, she says it did not). And on and on and on and on.

There were lighter moments too, when Scottish politics on Twitter once again rose magnificently to the occasion with some hilarious efforts.

My favourite was Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar’s blindingly obvious statement that there were big questions to be asked. I laughed for hours ... or maybe a minute…

Did any of these and other comments stray into dangerous territory?

The problem is we can’t know until someone is charged. We don’t know how long the restrictions will be in force.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon breaks silence on Peter Murrell's arrest

We don’t know exactly what is restricted because it can change all the time. When the law makes it advisable to say nothing rather than take a gamble it is reasonable to portray that as a restriction on free speech.

The Contempt of Court Act has some good intentions. Its aim is to make a fair trial more likely by preventing trial by media and stopping juries being influenced by public gossip, unsubstantiated rumour and plain and simple disinformation.

But like most laws seeking to limit what the public can talk about, it has its problems.

In this case, the actions of the police have by their very nature fuelled rumour and gossip. Anyone can see the effect that the apparent scale and nature of Wednesday’s searches are having on public opinion and public discourse.

And while in a free country, we absolutely have the right to be informed about these matters, shouldn’t we also have the right to be given information justifying the behaviour of the police – behaviour I can never recall seeing in previous investigations into similar alleged crimes?

We absolutely have the right to know why politicians at the centre of far bigger fraud investigations (hello, Mr and Mrs Michelle Mone) are swanning about on yachts rather than being banged up in a cell for hours.

Or is that information restricted under contempt of court legislation too?

Yes, we need a brave and free press to be vigilant in ensuring that those in the political sphere are meeting the required moral and ethical standards, and that applies whether we support or oppose or are entirely ambivalent about the political party or cause they espouse.

But we also need a brave and free press to ensure the police and the judiciary are behaving as they should and acting in a proportionate and proper way. A free press holds everyone in public life to account but it protects them too. And it protects the rest of us too.

None of this means the SNP can or should ignore the big questions they face. Of course, they should answer them, honestly and openly. There is huge pressure on the party to do so, from both outside and within.

There is no avoiding or shirking that responsibility. But there are other questions about our justice system that also need answers and we should not shirk from asking these too.