Police watchdog told chief's return would be 'bad decision', committee hears

25 January 2018, 13:33


Michael Matheson told police watchdogs they made a "bad decision" in ruling Scotland's top police officer could return to work while misconduct allegations were being carried out, a Holyrood committee heard.

Andrew Flanagan, the former chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), said when he informed the Justice Secretary his board wanted to end Chief Constable Phil Gormley's period of special leave, it was "clear" Mr Matheson did not want him to return.

The former SPA chair added he felt he had "no choice" than to "pause" Mr Gormley's return.

Mr Matheson has previously insisted his concerns about the decision were related to the processes the SPA board had followed, saying those investigating the allegations against Mr Gormley and other senior officers had not been informed about the decision they day before the Chief Constable was due to return to work.

But Mr Flanagan told MSPs on Holyrood's Public Audit Committee that all the board members who were at the SPA meeting on November 7 decided Mr Gormley could come back.

Mr Flanagan, who has now left the SPA, said: "Having reached that conclusion I wanted to advise the Cabinet Secretary of that.

"I met with him, I can't remember the exact date, but it was in early November, and explained the circumstances and he told me he thought it was a bad decision.

"It was clear to me that he did not want the Chief Constable to return at that point."

After a brief discussion with the Justice Secretary Mr Flanagan left to attend a Holyrood committee.

When he came out of the meeting he was asked to meet Mr Matheson again, adding that while no officials had been present at their earlier discussion, on this occasion three officials were present.

Mr Flanagan said: "It was clear that the Cabinet Secretary was still very unhappy but he changed to discuss the process rather than the decision itself. I reminded him of his comment earlier that it had been a bad decision, he told me not to bother with that and we then went on to discuss some of the processes."

When asked by Labour MSP Iain Gray if he felt he had "no choice but to pause the decision", Mr Flanagan said "Yes".

Acting chief constable Iain Livingstone previously told another committee he had asked Mr Flanagan for an update after the SPA board meeting the following day and was told "deliberations were ongoing".

SNP MSP Alex Neil put it to Mr Flanagan: "What the acting chief constable is saying in words of one syllable is you lied to him."

But Mr Flanagan insisted: "No I don't think I did. I didn't have a firm conclusion at that point."

Mr Gormley was travelling back to Scotland to return to work when he was informed the decision to allow him to return was being reviewed.

Mr Neil said: "He was already on his way back to Scotland to take up his duties the next day before you told the Cabinet Secretary, and you hadn't even by then told the acting chief constable, let alone Pirc (the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner)."

He hit out at the SPA board, saying: "We've heard what a pantomime it is and the poor governance. We've had crisis after crisis.

"We've heard this morning how you all come unprepared to this meeting, can't answer basic questions, you haven't brought your notes, you haven't brought your minutes, you don't seen to be well prepared at all."

Mr Gormley has been on special leave since September and denies the allegation against him.