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Michael Matheson may have acted unlawfully over police chief, Tories say

Ruth Davidson has questioned the Justice Secretary’s involvement in the chief constable’s period of special leave from Police Scotland.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has questioned whether the Justice Secretary acted unlawfully over his involvement in the chief constable’s period of special leave from Police Scotland.

She also accused Michael Matheson of trying to “close down questions” over his role in Phil Gormley’s employment status.

Ms Davidson said the case illustrated the need to amend the law on governance of Scotland’s national force, stating it was “clear that the legal framework does not ensure proper accountability”.

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Justice Secretary Michael Matheson was defended by the First Minister

Mr Matheson has been criticised for asking police watchdogs to reconsider their decision to allow Mr Gormley to return to his duties amid investigations into allegations of gross misconduct, which he denies.

The Justice Secretary said he had questioned “clear deficiencies” in the Scottish Police Authority’s decison-making process, causing the body to reverse the move.

No minutes were taken during a meeting between Mr Matheson and the then SPA chair where the issue was discussed.

Raising the issue at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood, Ms Davidson described it as a “fiasco”.

“This week the Justice Secretary tried to close down questions over his role regarding Police Scotland and the position of the chief constable, and he failed,” she said.

“Since then we’ve had lawyers and senior police officers exchanging further blows, we’ve had more evidence of details being kept from this Parliament, and most worryingly we’ve had an admission that no record exists of the meeting when Michael Matheson intervened over the chief constable’s return to work.”

She added: “This is about whether the Justice Secretary acted unlawfully by directing the Scottish Police Authority to stop the chief constable coming back to work against their own recommendations.”

She described the lack of minutes as “shocking”.

Ms Davidson continued: “It’s the SNP’s secret Scotland and it stinks.

“It is clear that the legal framework does not ensure proper accountability and we say it is time to amend the law so that it is Parliament, not that government, that has more power over our national force.”

The First Minister said the Justice Secretary had “acted entirely appropriately”.

Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs: “There is a role for the Scottish Government, there is a role for the Justice Secretary, in making sure the Scottish Police Authority carries out is functions properly.

“Of course the decisions about the employment of the chief constable are for the Scottish Police Authority.

“That division of responsibility is very clear and well understood.

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Chief constable Phil Gormley is being investigated over misconduct allegations

“Michael Matheson was right when faced with the news that the Scottish Police Authority were inviting the chief constable back to work … to ask questions such as had Pirc (the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner) been consulted given the ongoing investigation into allegations about the chief constable, had senior command been consulted and had steps been taken to ensure the welfare of any police officer that had raised concerns.

“He wasn’t able to be satisfied on those matters and that’s why the then chair of the SPA looked at the matter again.”

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