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Justice Secretary right to ask questions on Chief Constable return, MSPs told

Holyrood’s Justice Committee heard criticism of the decisions taken by former Scottish Police Authority chair Andrew Flanagan.

The Justice Secretary would have been “failing in his duty” had he not asked questions about the decision to reinstate Chief Constable Phil Gormley, MSPs have heard.

New Scottish Police Authority (SPA) chair Susan Deacon criticised her predecessor Andrew Flanagan over his handling of the affair saying she had found the process that had been followed to be “wanting in many, many ways”.

Acting chief constable Iain Livingstone also told Holyrood’s Justice Committee he had effectively been cut out of the decision-making process.

Michael Matheson has faced criticism for intervening after the SPA board had agreed to restore Mr Gormley to his role on November 7, resulting in the decision being reversed later that week.

Scotland’s top police officer is currently on special leave while the subject of four investigations by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) relating to allegations of gross misconduct, all of which he denies.

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Justice Secretary Michael Matheson (left) and Police Scotland Chief Constable Phil Gormley attending a community police operation event (David Cheskin/PA)

Ms Deacon said she was so concerned about the way the meeting on November 7 and others had been handled that on her very first day she notified SPA board members “we simply would not under my watch be handling these matters in the same way in future”.

She said: “I’ve looked quite carefully at that particular meeting that has become the matter of considerable public attention and I found it wanting in many, many ways in terms of its process.

“And I will just add since this is also a matter of some considerable debate that had I been in the cabinet secretary’s shoes, and I have walked in these types of shoes in the past, then I would have asked questions about process as to how that decision had been made and personally I think the Cabinet Secretary would be failing in his duty had he not asked those questions.

“I will also say for the record that if at any stage in my tenure as chair of the SPA the processes that I follow required to be questioned in that way by a Cabinet Secretary then I would regard that I would have failed in my duty as chair.”

She said she was working to address criticisms of the body as quickly as possible but added, “I think it will take many months for the SPA to really be operating in the way both in systems, cultures, practice, governance structures and so on that I think it needs to do.”

Meanwhile Mr Livingstone said he had asked for an update from Mr Flanagan after the November 7 meeting and the following day was told that “deliberations were ongoing”.

He said he was then told by Mr Flanagan on November 10 the SPA had taken the decision to extend Mr Gormley’s leave.

“But I wasn’t told actually that there had been a decision, a reconsideration and then another decision,” he said.

He has previously disputed a claim that adequate welfare provisions had been put in place to support the welfare of officers involved in the probes on Mr Gormley’s return.

He told the committee: “There were no welfare or wellbeing steps put in place because  I was never told that they were necessary.”

Mr Livingstone said he could not categorically say that no one else in Police Scotland was aware of Mr Gormley’s proposed return but said if they had been it would have been a “extremely discourteous” breach of protocol that would have left him “extremely annoyed and disappointed”.

He reassured MSPs that despite ongoing  issues around governance and accountability there was no “crisis” in policing and he was confident there was adequate resilience at chief officer level in the force.

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