- Kristy Ellis
Phil Gormley had the unanimous backing of the Scottish Police Authority board to resume his duties last month. It is believed there are documents to substantiate this.
It is being reported that SNP Justice Secretary Michael Matheson is blocking Gormley's return to work. Legal representatives also think this move may be "unlawful".
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie described the revelations as “astonishing” and criticised Matheson for his “direct interference”.
The Scottish Police Authority (SPA), the national oversight body for the force, has extended his period of absence while the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) carries out its investigations.
On November 8, outgoing SPA chief executive John Foley informed Gormley by letter that the Board had decided to “rescind” the leave period and added that it would be “beneficial if you return to duty as soon as practicable”.
It was allegedly mutually agreed that Gormley would assume the role of Chief Constable on Friday 10 November 2017.
It appears that Gormley was told on the 9th November that he could not return to his duties following results of a meeting between Andrew Flanagan and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice earlier the same afternoon.
On November 14, lawyer David Morgan, who is representing Gormley, contacted Andrew Flanagan, at that point SPA chair.
David Morgan wrote:
I have advised my client that any intervention by the Scottish Ministers to reverse the Board's decision is ultra vires and unlawful. This decision is solely a matter for the SPA, as the statutory body tasked with the operational deployment of my client as Chief Constable.”Gormley's lawyer also wrote directly to the Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and said:
He warned: “In the meantime, I must reserve my client's legal rights to challenge any failure to implement the Board's decision by way of application for judicial review should this be necessary.
This unanimous decision of the SPA Board is a matter of record and, despite recent press reports, it was not a unilateral decision of the current Chair, Andrew Flanagan. My client was therefore surprised to have been informed late on the afternoon of 9 November that, following your apparent intervention, he should not report back to work, despite the Board's unanimous decision.Jackie Baillie, Acting Convener of PAPLS, said:
"I understand that the suggestion was that the views of the Scottish Government ought to have been sought by the SPA, along with those of the PIRC. I have advised my client that there is no lawful basis for Scottish Government's intervention or interference with the lawful decision of the SPA, as the sole statutory body tasked with the operational deployment of the Chief Constable.
Not only does it appear that a senior civil servant has withheld information from the Public Audit Committee, even more damning is the direct interference of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.
“For Michael Matheson to intervene and completely contradict a unanimous decision of the Scottish Police Authority is unprecedented. It is little wonder the SPA is in such a mess if the Cabinet Secretary and his civil servants are making all the decisions.
“The SPA was set up to ensure that decisions about policing were kept at arms length from Ministers, but that has been recklessly trampled over by the Cabinet Secretary. His judgement is clearly called into question and he appears to have acted out with his powers. Matheson needs to urgently clarify his actions and the extent of his involvement in the decisions of the SPA.