Chris Marshall: New Police boss should hit ground running

WHEN Police Scotland’s new chief constable takes up his post next month, he will be hoping for a quieter 12 months than his predecessor was forced to endure.

New Police Scotland chief Phil Gormley. Picture: PA
New Police Scotland chief Phil Gormley. Picture: PA

Phil Gormley, a former deputy director of the National Crime Agency, was a surprise choice to succeed Sir Stephen House when his appointment was announced earlier this month.

He will need to earn every penny of his £212,000 salary if he is to restore faith in the beleaguered national service.

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Sir Stephen, who had led the force since its creation in April 2013, left under a cloud after seeing Police Scotland lurch from crisis to controversy for much of 2015. Still reeling from the fallout over the controversies about armed policing and stop and search in 2014, the national force found itself dealing with a new set of controversies this year.

The first was the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh in Kirkcaldy in early May. Mr Bayoh’s death, still being investigated by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc), was followed by the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill in a crash on the M9 in July.

The couple’s deaths, also currently being investigated by Pirc, still threaten to be the most damaging incident of all for the national force.

It took police three days to find the couple’s car after a call from a member of the public was not properly logged. The incident has already led to a review of police call handling by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland.

However, it remains to be seen what the outcome of the Pirc investigation will be.

The watchdog’s final report will not be made public, but instead submitted to the Lord Advocate who will decide on any further action.

Pirc is also investigating the death of 88-year-old Janet McKay whose body was found almost a week after an officer failed to pass on information to the inquiry team looking for the missing pensioner.

Following the Paris terror attacks in November, the Scottish Police Federation warned Police Scotland is “woefully under-equipped, under-resourced and under prepared” for a similar incident in Scotland.

The force’s top brass responded by saying they were ready, but admitted planning assumptions had been changed following the multi-pronged assault on the French capital.

There was more bad news for Police Scotland with the publication of a report by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office, saying the the force had acted “recklessly” by failing to obtain judicial approval when attempting to use mobile phone numbers to identify the source of a leak from the Emma Caldwell murder investigation.

Then ,just when senior officers were preparing to wind down for their Christmas break, two hard-hitting reports delivered on the same day highlighted more difficulties to come.

HMICS’ annual report welcomed a commitment to maintaining an additional 1,000 officers, but said many of them were being deployed away from the frontline in back office roles.

More worrying for Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority was a report from Audit Scotland warning of “significant issues” in Scottish police accounts, with a potential funding gap of £85m developing by 2018-19.

It all points to a challenging year ahead for Police Scotland. The new chief constable will have his work cut out.