MSPs heard evidence from former SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan. THE former chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has told a Scottish Parliament Committee he felt he was left with "no choice" but to halt plans for Chief Constable Phil Gormley to return to work – after meeting the Justice Secretary & officials.
Appearing before the Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee (PAPLS) earlier today, Ex SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan told MSPs that the Justice Secretary – Michael Matheson – told him during a meeting it would be “bad decision” to let Chief Constable Phil Gormley return to duty.
In evidence to the Committee, Mr Flanagan said of the November meeting with the Justice Secretary "I think he indicated that he thought it was a risk to the stability of the senior team.”
Mr Flanagan went on to say that when a second meeting took place - an hour later - Mr Matheson - now with three officials alongside him – changed and focused on the “process” behind the decision instead.
Mr Flanagan told MSPs: “I explained the circumstances and he told me that 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.”
"We had a discussion about the stability of the senior team, because that was a consideration that the SPA had had.”
Mr Flanagan said that after an hour’s break in which he attended a committee, he was was recalled to Mr Matheson’s office, where three officials had joined the Justice Secretary.
He 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. We then went on to discuss some of the process itself.”
Alex Neil MSP (SNP) asked Mr Flanagan whether he had "lied" to Mr Livingstone he deflected a query about Mr Gormley’s return - after the SPA had decided in favour - with a text message saying “deliberations were ongoing”.
Mr Flanagan said: "No, I don't think I did."
Mr Neil added: “The amnesia around the Scottish Police Authority is beyond belief.”
Mr Neil also excoriated the whole SPA board’s handling of the matter, saying its non-executive directors had “utterly failed in their duty” and should fall on their swords.
Andrew Flanagan’s evidence to the PAPLS Committee has now cast doubt over Mr Matheson’s version of events which the Justice Secretary gave to MSPs earlier this week.
The differing accounts of Mr Flanagan & Justice Secretary Michael Matheson of what happened during their meeting relate to discussions around the Scottish Police Authority’s decision to allow Chief Constable Phil Gormley – who is currently on ‘special leave’ to return to his post last November.
The SPA Board had decided Mr Gormley could resume his duties, and had compiled draft Press Releases announcing their decision – but the decision was reversed after the meeting between Andrew Flanagan & Michael Matheson.
It also emerged the Scottish Police Authority did not consult the watchdog investigating complaints against Mr Gormley – which led to him being put on special lave, nor was the acting Chief Constable – DCC Iain Livingstone, told in advance of the SPA’s decision to return Mr Gormley to work.
In an earlier account of events to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Matheson said s his concern was with the process behind the decision to allow the Chief Constable to return to work, rather than the decision itself.
Mr Matheson claimed he had and he had merely requested the SPA “reconsider” the decision to return Mr Gormley to his duties.
Michael Matheson had earlier told MSPs at Holyrood: “This is not about an operational decision-making matter, but about the SPA’s process in making a decision… I am very clear that it is not the outcome of the SPA’s future decision on the chief constable’s leave situation but the process that the SPA goes through in making it that needs to be robust and defendable.”
During Matheson’s account of events, it also transpired there was no notes or minutes taken of the meeting with Andrew Flanagan – a habit of secrecy now often indulged in by Scottish Ministers to avoid disclosure and potential Freedom of Information requests.
The full evidence session from the PAPLS Committee hearing today can be viewed here:
Coverage of questions from PAPLS Committee member Alex Neil can be viewed here:
A debate in the Scottish Parliament on the circumstances of the Justice Secretary’s role in what led to the reversal of the SPA’s decision to allow the Chief Constable to return to work, can be viewed here:
and on Tuesday, the acting Chief Constable of Police Scotland – DCC Iain Livingstone, appeared alongside Susan Deacon, the new Chair of the Scottish Police Authority at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on what he had not been told of the SPA’s decision to return Phil Gormley to work.
Coverage of the Justice Committee meeting on Tuesday can be viewed here:
While the battle over who said what to who, between Scottish Ministers & former bosses at the Scottish Police Authority continues, readers will be well aware of a number of suspensions of senior offices at Police Scotland, and a drip drip feed of complaints against current Chief Constable Phil Gormley, the latest of which appears to have been made by the Scottish Police Federation.
Why exactly, many may wonder, is this debate around suspensions of top cops & dodgy decisions at the SPA relevant.
Well, the answer is that what has come out in this debate, shows a train of Ministerial intervention on the sly, without using the powers of Ministerial direction.
And, perhaps more importantly for the community at large, the amount of backstabbing, allegations & counter allegations against other senior Police officers has revealed the highly factional management of Police Scotland, where ambition and power is just as prevalent as in politics and other sectors of public life, and the corporate world.
An earlier report by DOI on events which led to the resignation of Andrew Flanagan and John Foley can be found here GONE EXEC’IN: Scottish Police Authority Chief Executive takes early retirement with pay-off, following resignation of ‘Kremlin’ Chair Andrew Flanagan - discredited board & Vice Chair who backed secretive top duo remain in posts
and here: GONE KREMLIN: Chair of Scottish Police Authority resigns, lingers in office ‘until replacement found’ for discredited Police watchdog – focus now moves to ‘collective amnesia’ board who failed to support transparency crusading colleague
A full report of today’s hearing at Holyrood and the events leading up to it, can be found on the Herald newspaper here : Matheson accused of misleading parliament and urged to consider his position
Further reports in the media tonight feature comments from a spokesperson for Mr Gormley's legal team – who criticised the "unnecessarily protracted process" and the fact that that the chief constable has yet to be interviewed, seven months after he volunteered to step aside to allow the Pirc to secure evidence.
A spokesperson for the Chief Constable's legal team commented: “Throughout this unnecessarily protracted process Chief Constable Phil Gormley has co-operated fully with all parties to allow this matter to reach a fair and proper conclusion, whilst maintaining his denial of all of the allegations against him. It should be remembered that it was the Chief Constable who volunteered to step aside temporarily to enable the evidence required to be secured by the PIRC.
No-one could have anticipated that, seven months on, the Chief Constable himself would not yet have been interviewed to put his evidence forward in oral representations.
The evidence this morning at the Scottish Parliament Public Audit Committee of the disagreement between the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the SPA regarding his return to full operational duties (which has still yet to be implemented), is of serious concern.
The Chief Constable’s professional reputation, career and welfare have been eclipsed by a public battle of wills between the SPA and the Scottish Government.
It demonstrates that the present system for investigating complaints against the Chief Constable is unworkable and requires a fundamental review. It is hard to see how any fair process can now follow given such public disagreement.”