Government accused of ‘endemic meddling’ in chief constable misconduct saga

MSPs have called on Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson to quit after claims the government “tore up the rule book” that is supposed to protect the independence of Police Scotland.

Jan 30, 2018

MSPs have called on Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson to quit after claims the government “tore up the rule book” that is supposed to protect the independence of Police Scotland. The SNP stands accused of “endemic meddling” in policing matters after allegations that one of Mr Matheson’s senior officials attempted to interfere in the running of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC). PIRC Commissioner Kate Frame rebuffed the attempt last month, telling Mr Matheson’s aide she was “more than a little surprised” at his action. “My perception of your remarks is of governmental interference with my independence,” she told Donald McGillvray, the Scottish Government’s deputy director of policing, after he urged her to delay the publication of a highly critical report. The suggestion was made against the backdrop of misconduct allegations against on-leave Chief Constable Phil Gormley but the Government insists no interference took place, as the report came out on time. However, opposition MSPs said the attempt to influence the PIRC was serious enough for an inquiry into government over-reach and for Mr Matheson to resign. Mr Matheson is already facing claims he “unlawfully” tried to influence the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) late last year after it decided to allow Mr Gormley to return from special leave despite the PIRC investigating several allegations against him. The decision was reversed following an intervention from Mr Matheson, who told parliament key parties had not been consulted and there was a “particular concern” about the impact the chief constable’s return could have on those who had made the allegations. Mr Matheson said he had questioned “clear deficiencies” in the SPA’s decision-making process, causing the body to reverse its decision. According to Andrew Flanagan, the SPA’s then chair, Mr Matheson told him the move to reinstate Mr Gormley was a “bad decision” and could destabilise Police Scotland. A second meeting between the two saw Mr Matheson change tack and focus on the “process” behind the decision instead. The dispute between Mr McGillvray and Ms Frame is documented in an email exchange, revealed by the Sunday Post, about a PIRC inquiry into SPA complaint handling. It found the way the SPA handled complaints about senior officers lacked clarity and transparency and was “neither effective nor efficient”. On November 30, Mr McGillvray wrote to Ms Frame warning the report might be seized on by Mr Gormley’s lawyers. “I’m conscious the CC’s lawyers are very active at the moment,” he said. Three weeks previously, the SPA had agreed to reinstate Mr Gormley, then reversed its decision after Mr Matheson urged them to “reconsider”. Mr McGillvray suggested Ms Frame might influence the SPA informally in the meantime, using its “open door to improvement” rather than publishing her report. His email said: “That route might carry less risk until the [chief constable] issue has moved on a bit, especially if the content of the report crosses over with points his lawyers are raising.” Ms Frame replied on December 5, saying she was sticking to her original timetable. She made her “governmental interference” remark in a further December 23 email, and the report was published on December 29. A spokesperson for the PIRC told Police Professional: “During the second half of 2017, the PIRC audited and examined the SPA’s Complaint Handling Procedures for the period between April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2017. “The PIRC was committed to publishing her independent audit report by the end of 2017 and adhered to this schedule. This independence was emphasised to the Scottish Government in an email on December 23, 2017. “The comment by the commissioner in the e-mail was made to allay any potential for perception that the Government were attempting to interfere in her position of independence. “There have been no incidents of government interference and the release of the audit d

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