Scotland’s embattled chief constable has been accused of playing the race card after his wife claimed he was being targeted as an “outsider” with an English accent.

Phil Gormley has been on special leave since September last year amid a swathe of bullying accusations, including a fourth formal investigation in to alleged misconduct launched on Friday.

However, his chances of a return to office took a further blow yesterday after his partner Claire made a series of allegations, including a thinly veiled one of racism, against Scotland’s policing bureaucracy.

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Analysis: Scotland's latest deja vu police chief scandal

In a highly unusual public defence of her husband in a tabloid newspaper, Mrs Gormley said: “It is very easy to attack an outsider. Phil doesn’t have a Scottish accent, he was born in Surrey, not Stirling.”

Mrs Gormley, writing in the Scottish Daily Mail, said she had been compelled to speak out after seeing Mr Gormley “vilified by many through the media”.

She said she had little trust in the institutions trying to get to the bottom of claims against her husband, adding that she had “little confidence justice will prevail”.

Police and justice insiders immediately responded that it would be very difficult for Mr Gormley to return to office even if the allegations against him were deemed unfounded by watchdogs.

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Mrs Gormley’s allegations will be seen as an attack on both the service and the Scottish Government, burning any remaining bridges the chief constable may have had with colleagues and politicians.

Former senior officer Niven Rennie said the suggestion of unfair treatment as an “outsider” would be particularly damaging.

“I’m really sorry to see the Gormley family raise the stakes,” he said. “I think there is little way back for him now. The racist allegation was too far.

“There are numerous English officers - and Irish - in Police Scotland. This was a bold but reckless move.”

Fully half of Mr Gormley’s top executive team are from outside Scotland. Only one of his three deputies - Iain Livingstone, who is acting chief constable - is Scottish. Senior police officers routinely rotate around the UK.

Mr Gormley’s predecessor also considered himself English despite being born in Glasgow. Sir Stephen House was brought up south of the border before becoming chief of the old Strathclyde force then Police Scotland.

Former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill also dismissed any suggestion that Mr Gormley’s Englishness was an issue.

He said: “It is utter nonsense in my view. “Officers from wherever and at whatever rank have always been treated with respect. So are Scots who serve down south or elsewhere in the UK. This seems far more about personalities than ethnicity.”

Mrs Gormley’s article in the Mail came despite an expectation that the parties to police misconduct hearings do not discuss their cases in public. None of Mr Gormley’s accusers have gone public - nor have any of their family members.

Analysis: Scotland's latest deja vu police chief scandal

Mrs Gormley complained that the investigation in to her husband was taking too long. Describing herself as an “experienced investigator” she said she had carried out many probes herself, “including inquiries into allegations of bullying against senior officers”,

She said: “No one disputes the seriousness of bullying, but to ensure fairness to both the accused and the accuser, I interviewed key witnesses as soon as possible, obtaining untainted and relevant evidence.”

In such cases she said she had “searched for the truth” but added: “I have seen little evidence of this concerning my husband, who seven months after the first allegation was made, has still not been interviewed.

Scotland’s Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, or Pirc, Kate Frame, formally announced a fourth investigation in to Mr Gormley on Friday. It is understood to relate to Police Scotland’s head of IT.

Chief officer investigations take time, sources stress, with watchdogs under an unexpected workload. PIRC also has three under way in to one of Mr Gormley’s assistant chief constables.

Mr Gormley has always denied all of the allegations against him.