Justice Secretary may face hearing over Phil Gormley's return to work

Justice Secretary Michael MathesonJustice Secretary Michael Matheson
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson could be called to give evidence by a committee of MSPs, amid claims he prevented Chief Constable Phil Gormley returning to work.

Mr Gormley has been on leave since September while the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) looks into allegations of ­bullying.

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The chief constable’s lawyer has claimed a decision by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) which would have allowed his client to resume his duties in early November was postponed following an “intervention” by the Justice Secretary.

Acting convener Jackie Baillie said the audit committee was preparing to recall senior civil servant Paul Johnston, the Scottish Government’s director-general for education, communities and justice, and could also call Mr Matheson.

The Pirc is currently investigating a series of complaints against Scotland’s most senior police officer which, if proven, could lead to his dismissal.

Despite that, the SPA board apparently agreed to allow Mr Gormley to return to work on 10 November.

In a letter to the committee, Mr Gormley’s lawyer, David Morgan, said the decision was postponed on 9 November following a meeting between then SPA chairman Andrew Flanagan and Mr Matheson.

He wrote: “We have subsequently written to both the SPA and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice seeking clarification for the basis of the apparent intervention by the Cabinet Secretary and the failure of the SPA to implement its clear and unanimous decision.”

Ms Baillie said it appeared Mr Matheson had overruled the SPA.

She said: “For the Cabinet Secretary himself to be involved, I believe is without precedent. If you have a problem with the SPA and don’t think it’s doing its job, it’s incumbent on the Cabinet Secretary to sort that problem out, not to take over their role.

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“What we appear to have seen is the Cabinet Secretary deciding the SPA is not fit for purpose. But instead of doing something about it, he decided to take decisions for them.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The position of the chief constable is a matter for the SPA board who have kept it under review on a four-weekly basis while an investigation into complaints is conducted by the Pirc.

“As was made clear at last month’s audit committee, the Scottish Government sought assurances that decisions by the SPA were being made on a fully informed basis including seeking the views of the Pirc.”