Scottish Police Authority must be '˜stronger', '˜more effective', says new chair

Scotland's police watchdog has to be 'stronger and more effective', its new chairman has said at the end of her first week in charge.

Former Labour health minister Susan Deacon took charge of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) this week at a time when Police Scotland is in turmoil.

Scotland’s top police officer, Chief Constable Phil Gormley, was placed on ‘special leave’ in September as allegations of gross misconduct are investigated by the independent Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.

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Meanwhile, in November Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins was suspended by SPA watchdogs after “a number of criminal and misconduct allegations”.

Mr Higgins, who was the head of armed policing in Scotland, and Mr Gormley deny any wrongdoing.

Ms Deacon succeeds Andrew Flanagan, who quit as SPA chairman following concerns over governance and transparency at the organisation, alongside criticism of his leadership.

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Speaking on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme at the end of her first week in the job, Ms Deacon was asked if she would provide greater scrutiny of Police Scotland.

She said: “I think you raise an incredibly important point and that is the SPA has to be stronger and more effective in what it does and that, I think, would create much of the improved scrutiny and debate that we now need and that’s what I’m determined to make improvement on in the months and years to come.

“I think trust and confidence in our police service is very high.

“I think we need to build more trust and confidence in the leadership of the police service and we need to get wider public understanding, and I think a more mature debate, both in the political world and in the press around the big challenges and changes that face our police service going forward and, without question, the SPA has a very important role to play in that.”

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has already expressed his faith in the new SPA chairman, saying Ms Deacon would ‘’bring a new approach to the governance of policing’’.

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Despite the continuing leadership investigations, Ms Deacon said Police Scotland was “continuing to operate very effectively indeed”.

“I think something I would want to be clear about is that we can have complete confidence in our police service,” the former MSP said.

“Policing in every part of the UK and around the world is a complex business and it’s a people business.

“Every day our police service is dealing with issues of enormous risk and complexity and certainly what we’ve seen in Scotland is a degree of focus and scrutiny and debate on many of these issues the likes of which we haven’t seen before and I actually think that’s positive.”