Scotland politics

Police chief may return to work

Phil Gormley Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Gormley has been on leave of absence

Scotland's police watchdog has said an investigation into Chief Constable Phil Gormley would not be prejudiced by him returning to work.

Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) Kate Frame wrote to MSPs about the inquiry.

Her clarification came in a letter to Holyrood's Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee.

Ms Frame said she gave her opinion on the matter to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) last month.

Claims of gross misconduct concerning Mr Gormley, which he denies, are being investigated.

Image copyright PIRC
Image caption Kate Frame explained her position in a letter to a Scottish parliament committee

She wrote: "I advised the new Chief Officer of the SPA on 11 December 2017 that, as things currently stand, there would be no prejudice to the Pirc investigations if the chief constable was not suspended."

Ms Frame said she was writing to "ensure that there is no ambiguity about the circumstances surrounding my engagement (or rather the lack of it) in the process surrounding the chief constable's absence from duty".

Mr Gormley has been on leave of absence since September.

Tulliallan witnesses

Ms Frame said her views were not sought at that time, although she believed it was correct for the chief constable to step aside initially.

She said: "Had my views been sought at the outset of these investigations, I confirm that I had real and significant concerns that the Pirc investigations may have been prejudiced, if the chief constable had not been suspended.

"My concerns mainly arose from the fact that a large number of the witnesses were police staff from the federated ranks and civilian staff who worked within the executive offices at Police Scotland's headquarters, Tulliallan, and therefore in the immediate vicinity of the chief constable's office.

"Due to the position of power and influence attaching to the chief constable's post, there was a significant concern that those witnesses would not feel free to speak up if the chief constable remained in post.

"The chief constable's period of leave in England has enabled my investigation to complete interviews of the more junior members of staff, who perhaps had the greatest fear of repercussions and provided them with a safe space to be interviewed without any immediate fears."

An SPA spokeswoman said: "The board has agreed that continuing the chief constable's period of leave of absence remains an appropriate measure to address investigative and welfare issues for all parties involved."

The SPA is reviewing the decision every four weeks, with the next review planned on 25 January.

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