Michael Matheson confirms intervention over Police Scotland chief constable return to work

Written by Tom Freeman on 10 January 2018 in News

‘Clear deficiencies’ in Scottish Police Authority decision on chief constable, says Justice Secretary

Michael Matheson - Scottish parliament

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has criticised the governing body of Police Scotland for “clear deficiencies in the process” of bringing Chief Constable Phil Gormley back to work.

In a statement to MSPs, Matheson defended his decision to intervene after the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) invited Gormley back to work while he is being investigated for accusations of gross misconduct.

Opposition parties had criticised the move and Gormley’s lawyer suggested the minister may have acted “unlawfully” if he prevented his return to work.

Gormley took leave of absence after allegations of bullying, which he denies.

Matheson told MSPs the SPA had written to Gormley on 8 November to invite him back to work without first informing ministers, the PIRC independent review into his conduct or the senior leadership team at the force.

There was also no plan in place to protect those who had made the allegations.

This meant the chief constable would have been working alongside his accusers, he added.

“I took the view that these clear deficiencies in the process were completely unacceptable,” he said.

“I made clear to the former chair that I could not have confidence in a decision that had been reached without such significant issues having been properly addressed.”

The SPA board then reversed the decision at a meeting on the 10 November.

Scottish Conservative Margaret Mitchell said that "unless the cabinet secretary has chosen to use his formal powers under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, any intervention on his part resulting in a unanimous decision of the SPA board being overturned could be ultra vires."

Matheson indicated he would have used the powers if the SPA chair had not agreed to review the decision.

Labour's Daniel Johnson said the cabinet secretary had "prejudiced" the decision. 

"The intervention that the cabinet secretary should have made was to fix the governance, sort the strategy and get things moving in the right direction, and he should have done that months ago, at the start of last year when the issues became clear," he said.

But Green MSP and former policeman John Finnie said Matheson's actions had been "entirely appropriate".

The SPA has faced criticism from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland and Audit Scotland, and its senior leadership team has since left.

Chairman Andrew Flanagan, who had written to Gormley inviting him back to work, has resigned while chief executive John Foley took early retirement in October.

The body is now chaired by former Labour MSP Susan Deacon, who has said it needs to be “more robust” in dealing with complaints.

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