Chris Marshall: Police Scotland needs to act to prevent Gormleygate 2
After eight months of fevered speculation about his future, enough was finally enough for Scotland’s most senior police officer.
In a short statement issued last week, Phil Gormley brought to an ignominious end his troubled tenure in charge of the national police force. His decision to resign with immediate effect also signalled the premature conclusion of five separate investigations into allegations of gross misconduct any of which, if proved, could have led to his dismissal.
For the best part of a year, Police Scotland’s officers have continued the important work of disrupting organised crime, finding missing persons and generally keeping people safe, all as the soap opera involving the top brass has played out in the media.
That must be incredibly dispiriting for those on the frontline, but while there’s relief it’s finally over, the culmination of the saga dubbed Gormleygate has been unsatisfactory for all involved. Mr Gormley went on leave in September and continued to receive his £214,000 annual salary right up until his resignation last week.
He departs with a payment for his three months’ notice period (a sum of around £50,000) and his outstanding annual leave entitlement.
During the past few months, the public has heard interventions from such informed commentators as Gormley’s wife Claire (she thought he was innocent) and former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill (he thought Gormley should go regardless).
But little actual detail has emerged concerning the nature of the allegations themselves, other than most were related to claims of bullying. While the chief constable denied all the charges against him, it’s undeniable he leaves Police Scotland under a cloud.
And while those who complained about him will no doubt be glad to see him go, their allegations cannot now be fully investigated.
The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc), Kate Frame, will pass her findings to date to the Scottish Police Authority and that is likely to be that.
Under the regulations that govern the Pirc’s work, the body has no power to continue investigating those who cease to be employees of Police Scotland.
Should Mr Gormley wish to resume his police career in England – where it appears he continues to be highly regarded – there would be nothing to stop him, although he may struggle to get a reference from his previous employer.
It appears the system has singularly failed to hold the country’s most senior police officer to account for alleged misconduct.
Or, put another way, the former chief constable has been denied the opportunity of clearing his name. Should this scenario have taken place south of the border, it’s likely there would have been a different outcome.
Under the English regulations, disciplinary proceedings can still take place even if a chief constable decides to retire while under investigation.
If the inquiry concludes that the appropriate sanction would have been dismissal, the officer is added to the disbarred list and no longer able to serve in any other policing body.
After this latest inglorious chapter in the short history of Police Scotland, the Scottish Government should consider bringing the regulations in line with those in England.
We cannot allow this sorry situation to be repeated.