Chris Marshall: Complaints must be dealt with but damage is done at Police Scotland

There have been calls for Police Scotland chief executive Phil Gormley to resign, even before investigations into his conduct have been completed.
There have been calls for Police Scotland chief executive Phil Gormley to resign, even before investigations into his conduct have been completed.
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Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill last week led the calls for Chief Constable Phil Gormley to quit – even before a series of watchdog investigations into his conduct are completed.

Three bullying complaints against Scotland’s most senior police officer are currently being examined by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc), while a fourth is being assessed by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

But speaking during a BBC Radio Scotland interview, Mr MacAskill said the chief should go now due to the “reputational damage” the situation is doing to the force.

While the way back for Mr Gormley looks difficult to say the least, most believe due process should be followed, even if there is disquiet about the SPA’s decision to allow him to go on leave while continuing to pick up his £214,000 a year salary.

Without any apparent self-awareness or reference to his decision to release the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Mr MacAskill went on to argue the position of a politician or senior police officer is “untenable” once they “become the story”.

Mr MacAskill’s comments will have been particularly unwelcome for his successor, Michael Matheson, who is the most likely political casualty of the shambles at the top of Scottish policing.

During an event hosted by the Scottish Police Federation at the SNP conference, Mr Matheson was attacked by a member of his own party over the state of Police Scotland.

The woman said her daughter had quit her job in the force after “relentless” shifts which left her physically and emotionally exhausted.

The woman, who did not want to be named, added: “(My daughter) didn’t think the job would be a walk in the park, she was well aware of what she was taking on and I feel she’s been very let down. She’s not complaining, but I’m angry.

“Mr Matheson, I’m a member of the SNP. This is not a Tory government in Scotland. This isn’t a Labour government in Scotland. This is my party in Scotland and you are letting down your officers.”

Pressure is growing on Mr Matheson who has until now managed to adroitly avoid criticism over the situation at Police Scotland.

As well as a police force missing a chief constable, there is also a lack of leadership at the SPA, with the recruitment process under way to replace chairman Andrew Flanagan.

The justice secretary will be hoping the SPA appoint a strong chair able to sort out the mess at his own organisation as well as ask difficult questions of the Police Scotland leadership – something sorely lacking from the SPA to date.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigations into Mr Gormley, his contract is due to expire at the end of next year and is unlikely to be renewed.

Pressure will be on the SPA to get the next appointment right, someone who can bring stability to a force which has been buffeted by crisis and controversy since its establishment in 2013.

No-one will be more desperate for that than Mr Matheson, who has shown willingness to come to a considered position of issues such as penal reform but remains dogged by the problems at Police Scotland.

The justice secretary needs to be careful, otherwise – like his predecessor – he will become the story.