Calls have been made for a review of the Scottish Police Authority after the watchdog apparently ruled Phil Gormley could return to work without informing Police Scotland or the body investigating allegations against the Chief Constable.
Liberal Democrat leader Willlie Rennie made the plea after some opposition MSPs at Holyrood branded the situation a “shambles”.
Mr Rennie told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “It does call into question something that we’ve been questioning for a long time, which is the whole structure of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), the centralised Police Scotland, because this is not the first of the problems that we’ve seen with Police Scotland.
“We’ve seen a myriad of issues and it’s about time we had a root-and-branch review of Police Scotland to make sure we can avoid these kind of problems happening in the future.”
He spoke out after Justice Secretary Michael Matheson told MSPs that the SPA board unanimously decided to rescind the police chief’s period of special leave - but only told him two days later.
He said they had failed to inform Police Scotland’s senior command team and the independent Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc).
Pirc is investigating allegations of gross misconduct, and the Justice Secretary highlighted his ‘’particular concern’’ about the impact Mr Gormley’s return could have on those who made the complaints.
The Chief Constable denies the allegations and his lawyers insisted there was “no lawful basis” for Mr Matheson to intervene in the decision over whether he could return to work.
But the Justice Secretary told BBC Radio Scotland he had asked the then chairman of the SPA Andrew Flanagan to “reconsider these matters because the process they have to have in place is one ministers have to have confidence in”.
Mr Matheson insisted his “concern was around the issue of the process they had in place” and not the decision itself, as he said would be happy for any minutes of the meeting between himself and Mr Flanagan to be released.
The Justice Secretary said: “I accept public bodies don’t always get these things right and it is appropriate that, where ministers are aware of that, they take appropriate measures in order to address it.”
He has also commissioned work to look at the governance processes of the SPA, with a report due in the coming weeks.
He said: “When I was advised on November 9 that the Scottish Police Authority had two days earlier made a decision that the Chief Constable should return to his duties I asked for assurances on a number of key areas.
“First of all there was a live investigation being taken forward by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.
“Had they taken consideration of that and whether the return of the Chief Constable would impact on that investigation?
“Had they considered the welfare of staff and officers who had made the complaints and may be part of the investigation?
“And also, had they engaged with the command team at Police Scotland about the plans for the Chief Constable to return, which would have been the next morning
“Unfortunately the former chair of the Scottish Police Authority was unable to give me assurances on any of those matters.”
Mr Rennie said he would “probably” have acted in the same way as the Justice Secretary, adding: “It was quite astonishing what the full board of the Scottish Police Authority did, without checking with the current Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, without checking with Pirc, the investigatory body, without making sure that welfare arrangements were in place for the members of staff who were involved in the inquiry into Phil Gormley, without checking on any of those things, without the inquiry being concluded, they invited him to come back to work.”
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