New police watchdog chief denies force is in crisis

Picture: Jon Savage
Picture: Jon Savage
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The new chairwoman of Scotland’s police watchdog has said she takes issue with the notion that the country’s police service is in crisis.

Former Labour health minister Susan Deacon takes up the post at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) today and said there are challenges ahead to make the organisation one that people can have trust and confidence in.

Her appointment comes at a troubled time for Police Scotland, which has been hit by the loss of some of its most senior officers in recent months. Scotland’s top police officer, Chief Constable Phil Gormley, was placed on “special leave” in September as allegations of gross misconduct are investigated.

Meanwhile, Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins was one of four officers suspended last month as part of an investigation into criminal and misconduct allegations which involved a further two officers being placed on restricted duties.

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

She said the SPA “certainly has had a fairly bumpy ride over the last few years” and that improvements need to be made in leadership and governance.

Ms Deacon told BBC Sunday Politics Scotland: “I have to take issue as others have done with the notion that our police service itself is in crisis. Policing is continuing across Scotland.

“All of that said, I for one do not doubt for a minute the challenges that lie ahead both in terms of taking forward and developing our police service but also in making sure there is a Scottish Police Authority that the public, politicians and others can have trust and confidence in.

“And from tomorrow that’s my job, to make improvements in that area.

“The fact that there has been so much attention on the inner workings of the authority itself is not a good place to be.

“People have been working hard, the staff, members of the board, I recognise that.

“But without question there’s improvements in leadership and governance that need to be made and the parliament has pored over this.

“Her Majesty’s Inspectorate has produced a report on this and work is under way to take forward improvement.

“But I really want to make sure that we accelerate the pace of that improvement so that we get the authority in a place where the focus is not on what it does in terms of how it operates but rather what it does in terms of helping the public, parliament and others to scrutinise Police Scotland as it goes forward and critically what the authority does to drive improvement and change in our police service.”

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

Ms Deacon said she would not comment on individual cases.

Yesterday the acting head of the force called for policing to return to being an “apolitical public service” with less political interference. Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone told Scotland on Sunday it can make it difficult for officers if policing is “moved around as a political issue” and said he would like to see it taken out of the constant political debate.