Michael Matheson urged to clarify if he blocked Chief Constable's return to work

7 January 2018, 12:02 | Updated: 7 January 2018, 12:05

Michael Matheson

Labour has called for Justice Secretary Michael Matheson to answer questions in Parliament over allegations he intervened in a decision on Scotland's top police officer returning to work.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley has been on special leave since September as allegations of gross misconduct against him, which he denies, are investigated.

A letter from Mr Gormley's lawyer claimed the decision by independent police overseeing body the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) to allow the Chief Constable to return to work was blocked following the "intervention of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice".

Labour said Mr Matheson needs to assure the public that Police Scotland "remains operationally independent of government".

Scottish Labour's justice spokesman, Daniel Johnson, said: "There are serious questions for Michael Matheson to answer about the government's involvement in operational decisions made by the independent Scottish Police Authority.

"He must appear before Parliament so he can be properly questioned and held accountable.

"For months, the Scottish Government has separated itself from the crisis at Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority by claiming they are operationally independent.

"Now we have learned that the Cabinet Secretary may have directly intervened, by overturning a unanimous operational decision of the SPA.

"The public must be assured that the minister has not exceeded his authority, and that Scotland's police force remains operationally independent of government.

"It is also important that we understand the actions of the Cabinet Secretary, and the nature of that communication.

"These are fundamental questions and it is right the Cabinet Secretary should be brought before Parliament to answer them."

The convener of Holyrood's Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee Jenny Marra has confirmed plans to call Mr Matheson to give evidence.

Ms Marra told the Sunday Post: "There are clear allegations that the Cabinet Secretary has been involved and the allegations are that he has been involved inappropriately.

"Therefore, it will be our committee's responsibility to make sure that he is scrutinised. So yes, I intend to call him as a witness to committee to explain what is going on."

The call from Labour follows the police investigations and review commissioner Kate Frame, who is investigating the claims of misconduct against Mr Gormley, saying his return to active duty would not prejudice the ongoing investigation.