New questions for Michael Matheston over police chief meeting

The justice secretary is facing fresh questions over the Government's involvement in the chief constable's special leave from Police Scotland after it emerged a senior civil servant met the top officer in private.

Michael Matheson faces fresh questions over the handling of Phil Gormleys special leave. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor/JP License

Opposition parties have asked Michael Matheson to provide details of all of his and his civil servants’ communications in relation to Phil Gormley’s case.

Mr Matheson was criticised last week for asking police watchdogs to reconsider their decision to allow Mr Gormley to return to his duties amid investigations into allegations of gross misconduct, which he denies.

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The justice secretary told MSPs that to have let the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) implement the decision would have been “unacceptable” due to “clear deficiencies” in its decision-making process.

It has now emerged that two days after Mr Gormley’s lawyer raised concerns about the move amounting to unlawful interference, senior justice civil servant Paul Johnston met the chief constable in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Government said the “brief” meeting on 30 November at St Andrew’s House was to discuss the appointment of SPA chairwoman Susan Deacon, but a spokesperson for Mr Gormley’s legal teamsaid: “At the meeting my client restated his aim of returning to his position of chief constable.”

Labour’s justice spokesman Daniel Johnson said: “Michael Matheson should come clean on the Phil Gormley case. The past year has shattered public confidence in the Scottish Government’s handling of policing.

“Full disclosure of the actions taken by Mr Matheson and his officials relating to the Gormley case would be a key step in rebuilding that trust.”

He has written to Mr Matheson asking for “a full record of the interactions you and your officials have had with regard to Mr Gormley’s employment status and the investigation into his conduct”.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said the meeting between Mr Johnston and Mr Gormley should have been disclosed to MSPs.

“Michael Matheson needs to return to the Scottish Parliament to explain these omissions,” he said.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The cabinet secretary made a statement to parliament in which he clearly set out the reasons and circumstances around his intervention.”