John McLellan: Police Scotland needs to start again from the beginning

Police Scotland still has significant problems
Police Scotland still has significant problems
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My esteemed former colleague Susan Dalgety argued this week that a female in charge of Police Scotland would sort out the appalling mess the force is in, and points to the Met’s Commissioner Cressida Dick as the example to follow.

Having seen Commissioner Dick in action at the recent Society of Editors’ conference Susan may well be right, although appointing ex-Police Scotland chief Sir Stephen House as an assistant commissioner is a brave decision.

Given the chaos since Sir Stephen’s departure, change at the top will have to go a lot further than a new Chief Constable if the Scottish force is ever to emerge from the seemingly endless turmoil it has endured since its inception.

Everywhere there are problems; a management with more back-stabbing than Julius Caesar’s Senate, an authority with none to speak of, an interfering Government minister and an investigations organisation which has fiddled about while the now departed Chief Constable Phil Gormley was roasted on a public spit over bullying allegations. All of it needs changing.

If the buck stops with the Justice Secretary, then what is the point of the Police Authority? But if the Police Authority is to be anything other than a fig leaf, then it needs its powers extended so the extraordinary circumstances in which authority members were kept in the dark about what was going on with Gormley cannot be repeated.

The new Authority chair Susan Deacon this week hit out at opposition politicians for questioning Justice Secretary Michael Matheson about his role in blocking Gormley’s return to work from suspension, but what exactly did she expect them to do? Police Authority members are appointed by the Justice Minister, so who else but opposition MSPs have the licence to push him?

It might have been unedifying, as she put it, but such has been the shambles surrounding the bullying allegations against Gormley that it was only to be expected. What is unedifying are decisions likely to lead to the end of someone’s career taken on the hoof without proper process by a government which says its policies are all about fairness.

Following criticism of the Gormley investigation by ex-Northern Ireland police chief Sir Hugh Orde, a thorough shake-up of the Police and Investigations Review Commissioner’s office is needed as well. If an allegation is made against such a senior officer and five months later he or she has still not been interviewed then something is badly wrong.

Sir Hugh also pointed to the difficulties in driving through change in an organisation as conservative as the police, much more difficult when the people involved know their way around a system of allegation and accusation. A senior police insider told The Times this week that the claims against Gormley were part of an orchestrated campaign, and if so it’s one with an agenda which will not disappear at his departure.

“It is a deeply unhealthy and deeply dangerous situation,” said the officer. Too right it is. No wonder most observers reckon the acting chief Iain Livingstone is a stick-on to take over should he want it; which other serving senior officer with the right calibre would leave a secure job to take this on? So what’s to be done? Only the total reform of the function and scale of the Police Authority to improve accountability and a judge-led appointments panel to install members, clear limitations imposed on direct interference by the Justice Secretary, and a review of the PIRC’s operations and resources. And the force itself not only needs a new chief, but one who has a remit to shakeup the entire senior management. Policing Scotland needs to start again.

Make your voice heard over plans for Meadowbank Stadium
So the exciting vision for Meadowbank Stadium looks like it might not include Edinburgh City FC which has made the ground its home for the past 21 years. The club announced yesterday it is unlikely to return to the stadium because the proposed facilities do not meet Scottish Football Association requirements or its ambitions for the future. Despite discussions with council officers the list of concerns is comprehensive, including the spectator capacity and shared changing facilities, but at least there is still a window for alterations before the detailed plans go before councillors for approval in May. Two meetings have been arranged for the local community to discuss the stadium plan, from 2pm on Tuesday February 20 and at 7.30pm on February 27, both in St Margaret’s House, London Road.

Re-think required for Whitbread’s plans for Lady Nairne

The Lady Nairne Hotel on Willowbrae Road is a popular bolt-hole for visiting contractors and I’m told it also has a very good quiz night. But success can bring problems. For example, there have been complaints from residents in Meadowfield Drive immediately behind about the idling engines from refrigerated lorries delivering restaurant supplies. Now owners Whitbread want to add 21 rooms to the first floor, but neighbours are justifiably concerned the rooms will look directly into their gardens. Whitbread has previously said how much it values good relations with locals, so it might be time to re-think the operation.