THE new chairwoman of Scotland’s police watchdog has denied that the force is in crisis – as she prepares to probe allegations of crimes and misconduct within its leadership.

Susan Deacon, a former Labour health minister, starts work at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) today.

She said she accepted there were “challenges that lie ahead” in ensuring the public have trust and confidence in the police and its oversight body.

Her appointment comes at a troubled time for Police Scotland, which has been hit by the loss of some of its most senior officers in recent months.

Scotland’s top police officer, Chief Constable Phil Gormley, has been on “special leave” since September while allegations of gross misconduct are investigated.

Meanwhile, Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins was one of four officers suspended last month as part of a probe into criminal and misconduct allegations which involved a further two officers being placed on restricted duties.

Ms Deacon succeeds Andrew Flanagan, who quit as SPA chairman following concerns over governance and transparency at the organisation, alongside criticism of his leadership.

She said the SPA “certainly has had a fairly bumpy ride over the last few years” and that improvements need to be made in leadership and governance.

But she added: “I have to take issue, as others have done, with the notion that our police service itself is in crisis. Policing is continuing across Scotland.

“All of that said, I for one do not doubt for a minute the challenges that lie ahead both in terms of taking forward and developing our police service but also in making sure there is a Scottish Police Authority that the public, politicians and others can have trust and confidence in.”

Mr Higgins, who was the head of armed policing in Scotland, and Mr Gormley deny any wrongdoing. Ms Deacon said she would not comment on individual cases.

Her dismissal of a policing “crisis” comes as the acting head of the troubled force, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, called for an end to political interference in policing.

Mr Livingstone said officers did not anticipate the intensity of scrutiny that has come since the creation of the single force, but that it has led to greater accountability.

But he added: “It would be helpful if issues around government policy and the political debate that goes on in Scotland, if policing wasn’t part of that.

“That’s what, at times, makes it difficult for senior officers and operational officers and staff, if policing gets moved around as a political issue. Core policing in its essence is apolitical.”

However, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, one of the most vocal critics of police reform, said: "It is disappointing that Iain Livingstone thinks we should ignore the state of one of our most important public services.

“I will never apologise for questioning police centralisation, call centres, M9 crash, top down target culture and massive reduction of experienced civilian staff.”