THE First Minister has been called on to launch an investigation into Justice Secretary Michael Matheson over claims he misled Holyrood about his role in stopping Police Scotland’s chief constable from returning to work.

Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said Matheson, who effectively overturned the Scottish Police Authority decision to allow Phil Gormley to come back, breached the Ministerial Code over his account of his dealings with the SPA.

However, the Government defended Matheson by saying he had acted “entirely appropriately at all times”.

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Gormley has been on leave since September after bullying allegations were made against him by colleagues in the force.

However, as revealed by the Sunday Herald, the SPA, which has responsibility for the chief constable, agreed on November 7th that he could come back.

Matheson was highly sceptical of the decision and, two days later at an unminuted meeting, raised concerns with the then SPA chair Andrew Flanagan.

The SPA, which is supposed to be a buffer between Government and Police Scotland, reversed the decision, sparking legal threats from Gormley’s lawyer.

Matheson’s actions have dominated proceedings at Holyood for weeks and the Justice Secretary has faced calls for his resignation over the alleged interference.

Addressing MSPs last month, he said he had raised concerns with Flanagan about “process” and insisted the decision had been for the SPA.

Flanagan contradicted Matheson by saying they had twice met on November 9th, adding that at the first meeting the SNP politician had opposed Gormley’s return per se, rather than simply flagging up process concerns.

In his letter to the First Minister, Johnson wrote:

“An investigation into apparent breaches of the Ministerial Code is urgently required to ensure proper process has been followed and to reinstate public confidence in the Government’s oversight and stewardship of policing in Scotland.”

He explained: “You will also be aware that the Minister contacted, and had two meetings with the then SPA Chair, Andrew Flanagan, on 9 November 2017 regarding the decision of the SPA Board to reinstate the Chief Constable following his special leave.

“The Minister has claimed (in a statement to Parliament of 10 January 2018) that this intervention was concerned with “due process” rather than with influencing the “outcomes” of the SPA’s decision.

“This is not supported by formal evidence to the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee on 25 January 2018, from Mr Flanagan that the Minister explicitly stated on 9 November 2017 that the SPA had made a “bad decision”.

“This is clearly a point raised in respect of the decision itself and not the process by which it was made. As such, the Minister’s characterisation of the meeting to Parliament was both inaccurate and knowingly misleading, in contravention of the Code.”

He continued: “At Committee, Mr Flanagan also revealed that there were in fact two meetings held with the Minister on that date. The Minister’s omission of the second meeting from his statement to Parliament paints only a partial picture of the nature of his intervention, again raising questions of accuracy.”

Johnson also claimed that Matheson’s action could be a breach of legislation which states that Ministers should lay a copy of a “direction” given to the Authority before Holyrood.

He said: “At the above Committee meeting, Mr Flanagan unequivocally stated that he ‘had no choice but to pause the decision’ following his meeting with the Minister. This does not accord with the Minister’s description of his communications with the SPA as a ‘request’.

“There is no set form for a Ministerial direction. Accordingly, a request where there is no option but to comply could reasonably be interpreted as a direction. There is no doubt that the Minister sought to have the same effect as a direction would achieve, that is securing compliance with his instructions by exerting the influence of his office.”

Johnson added that the Justice Secretary had “lost the trust and confidence of the people of Scotland”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Justice Secretary has acted entirely appropriately at all times. He made clear to Parliament he felt such clear deficiencies in the SPA board’s decision-making process were completely unacceptable.

“Mr Matheson asked that further engagement and consultation be undertaken, to which the former SPA chair agreed. As noted by the former chair, Mr Matheson did not direct the SPA board to reverse its decision.

“The First Minister has already made it clear to Parliament that she supports the Justice Secretary’s actions.

“We will respond to Mr Johnson’s letter in due course.”