Justice Secretary accused of complacency over Police Scotland crisis

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Justice Secretary Michael Matheson was yesterday accused of complacency after insisting the public can have confidence in Police Scotland.

Mr Matheson made a Holyrood statement defending his stewardship of the justice brief in the wake of the single police force being hit by a series of controversies.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The Chief Constable Phil Gormley and one of his assistant chief constables have both been taken off duty.

Mr Gormley was placed on “special leave” in September as allegations of gross misconduct are investigated by the independent Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc).

On Friday, Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins was suspended by watchdogs at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) 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.

Mr Matheson admitted Police Scotland was facing a “challenging set of circumstances”. He added the single force continued to provide an “excellent local service to communities that I believe is the match of policing anywhere in the world”.

Opposition politicians instead accused Mr Matheson of being “complacent” and in a state of denial about the “critical state” the force is now in.

Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “Despite the tireless work of officers and staff on the frontline, which I applaud, the public fear the police service is in a critical state and the cabinet secretary is refusing to admit it.”

Labour’s Claire Baker said: “Given the past few days, this statement looks complacent.

“The Cabinet Secretary must take responsibility for what happens on his watch and there are legitimate concerns.”

Mr Matheson stressed the investigations process must be allowed to continue.

He made it clear that speculation about individuals or the allegations being made would “not be appropriate”.

Mr Matheson told MSPs: “I have stated in recent days this is a challenging set of circumstances for the executive team at Police Scotland.

“No-one would wish to be in this particular situation with an officer suspended and a chief constable who is presently on extended leave.

“But there is now an investigation into these incidents and we now have to wait for that process to be completed.”

The Justice Secretary added: “Some commentators have sought to use the recent events to question Police Scotland’s performance.

“However, the evidence on this is clear. The latest national statistics show that recorded crime is at a 43-year low and public confidence in the police remains strong. All local areas have seen a significant reduction in overall recorded crime over the longer term.

“The number of non-sexual violent crimes recorded has fallen 49 per cent between 2006/7 and 2016/17 and remains at one of its lowest levels since 1974. And cases of homicide have fallen by 47 per cent in the past ten years.”

Acting Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has also moved to reassure the public that he has “absolute confidence” in the national force’s leadership.