Chief Constable Phil Gormley said he was taking the decision to step aside in the “broader interests” of Police Scotland after a complaint by Malcolm Graham, a member of the force’s executive command.
Details of the allegations emerged during the course of a watchdog investigation into a previous bullying complaint against the chief by Superintendent Graham McInarlin.
The Scotsman understands Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone – who will lead Police Scotland in Mr Gormley’s absence – has now reconsidered his decision to take early retirement.
The latest allegation was yesterday passed to the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) which has launched a gross misconduct inquiry. Mr Gormley faces dismissal if the allegations are proved. In a statement, he said: “I have been notified by the Scottish Police Authority of a complaint made against me. This complaint originates from a member of the force executive.
“I have sought and been granted special leave to enable this matter to be properly assessed.
“I deny and reject the allegations and will co-operate with the SPA’s assessment and procedures. It is my intention to resume my full duties when this matter has been resolved.”
As well the two Pirc investigations, the chief constable is also the subject of a complaint by a female officer which is currently being considered by the SPA.
The latest allegation comes from Mr Graham, a former divisional commander for Edinburgh, who had a high-profile role during the investigation into the disappearance of three-year-old Mikaeel Kular in 2014.
More recently he has been responsible for bringing forward Police Scotland’s ten-year strategy, Policing 2026.
One senior police source said Mr Gormley’s position was now “untenable”, adding: “The initial complaint by Graham McInarlin … has given other people the confidence to come forward. There’s real mixed views on the chief constable within the force. He’s probably lost the dressing room and if you’ve got a couple of key people who are not with you, it’s a difficult gig.”
Mr Gormley remains on full pay and the SPA will keep under review its decision to approve his request for leave.
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said the investigation into the chief constable was “damaging” the force.
He said: “Many Scots already have severe doubts over the performance of the single force, and episodes like this will do nothing to help that image. The best we can now hope for is a swift and thorough investigation from Pirc.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokeswoman Claire Baker said: “This decision by the chief constable risks further damaging public confidence in Police Scotland.
“The SNP’s poor management of Police Scotland is creating an increasingly unstable and worrying situation.”
Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said: “There’s no doubt this allegation creates more difficulty and uncertainty for the police service at what is already a difficult time.
“It’s now vital that the service is provided an opportunity for stability. Efforts should now be directed to convincing Iain Livingstone to remain with the service to provide that.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate for ministers to make a comment at this stage while due process takes place.
“Iain Livingstone is well-equipped to lead Police Scotland through this period of absence.”