New Police Watchdog Chair Takes Over

4 December 2017, 10:34

Police

Former Labour health minister Susan Deacon has taken charge at Scotland's police watchdog.

Ms Deacon is the new chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and is taking over the post at a time when Police Scotland is in turmoil.

Scotland's top police officer, Chief Constable Phil Gormley, was placed on ''special leave'' in September as allegations of gross misconduct are investigated by the independent Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc).

Meanwhile, in November Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins was suspended by SPA watchdogs 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.

Ms Deacon succeeds Andrew Flanagan, who quit as SPA chair following concerns over governance and transparency at the organisation, alongside criticism of his leadership.

In October, the watchdog appointed a new interim chief executive, with senior Scottish Government official Kenneth Hogg taking over the post for 12 months after John Foley retired early.

On Sunday Ms Deacon said the SPA "certainly has had a fairly bumpy ride over the last few years" and that improvements need to be made in leadership and governance.

She told BBC Sunday Politics Scotland: "I have to take issue as others have done with the notion that our police service itself is in crisis. Policing is continuing across Scotland.

"All of that said, I for one do not doubt for a minute the challenges that lie ahead both in terms of taking forward and developing our police service but also in making sure there is a Scottish Police Authority that the public, politicians and others can have trust and confidence in.

"And from tomorrow that's my job, to make improvements in that area.

"The fact that there has been so much attention on the inner workings of the authority itself is not a good place to be.

"People have been working hard, the staff, members of the board, I recognise that.

"But without question, there's improvements in leadership and governance that need to be made and the parliament has pored over this.

"Her Majesty's Inspectorate has produced a report on this and work is under way to take forward improvement.

"But I really want to make sure that we accelerate the pace of that improvement so that we get the authority in a place where the focus is not on what it does in terms of how it operates but rather what it does in terms of helping the public, parliament and others to scrutinise Police Scotland as it goes forward and critically what the authority does to drive improvement and change in our police service."

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has already expressed his faith in the new SPA chair, saying Ms Deacon will "bring a new approach to the governance of policing".

He said the former minister had "extensive experience of high-profile roles in the public and private sectors", adding: "Through decades of experience leading changes in public, private and academic organisations, and her years serving the democratic process of communities as both MSP and minister, she has a track record of bringing together people and ideas in ways that lead to lasting improvement and change."