SCOTLAND's police watchdog has come under fire over a lack of transparency after breaking its silence over the mystery disappearance of its chief executive.

The Scottish Police Authority has confirmed that Hugh Grover is actually on sick leave after initially refusing to comment on why he was not in post.

He did not attend the last SPA board meeting in May and no explanation was given for his absence.

Scotland’s financial watchdog, Audit Scotland, confirmed that another staff member had been appointed to take care of his responsibilities – dealt with under the title, 'accountability officer' – due to Mr Grover's absence.

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A spokesman for Audit Scotland said: “The SPA notified us of the change in accountable officer and have agreed to keep us informed of any developments.”

It led to speculation that Mr Grover had left, just seven months after being appointed.

Before the SPA finally clarified what had happened to Mr Grover, 24 hours after it was reported he had resigned, Liberal Democrat Justice spokesman Liam McArthur revealed the Justice Committee has written to SPA chairwoman Susan Deacon seeking an urgent update and calling for more transparency.

He said: “The reported departure of the SPA’s chief executive, Hugh Grover, is deeply concerning.

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“Not only is Mr Grover less than six months in post but circumstances surrounding his exit appear to be shrouded in mystery.

“Such a lack of transparency is unhelpful and at odds with the promises made by the current chairwoman on taking up her role”.

The SPA statement said: "Following a report in the media today suggesting he had resigned his position, the SPA can confirm that Mr Hugh Grover continues to serve as its chief executive.

"While the SPA does not in normal circumstances comment publicly on confidential personnel issues, it is now in the public interest that we confirm that Mr Grover is currently absent from work on health grounds.

"An SPA director will continue to deputise for the chief executive and temporary arrangements are being agreed with the Scottish Government to cover Mr Grover’s accountable officer responsibilities, in line with guidance set out in the Scottish Public Finance Manual."

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It is not the first time the SPA has been mired in a transparency row.

In May, last year, it came under fire for suspending a policy that allowed members of the public to quiz the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

The SPA in 2018 enabled citizens and stakeholders to quiz the SPA directly, but chairman Susan Deacon opted to “pause and review” the system.

The SPA, under the leadership of former chair Andrew Flanagan, suffered a barrage of political and media criticism in 2017 over a series of anti-openness proposals.

Mr Flanagan wanted to hold SPA committee meetings behind closed doors and restrict the publication of official papers, but an outcry led to a u-turn.

A related row over his treatment of ex board member Moi Ali, who had opposed the plans, eventually led to his resignation.

But Mr Flanagan did open up the SPA in other ways, such as allowing external groups and individuals to email questions to the board.

Ms Deacon, a former Labour health minister who stood down as an MSP in 2007, replaced him as chair to bring “a fresh perspective to the governance of Scottish policing” after the authority was mired in controversy involving several executives.

Mr Grover's role involves acting as the principal adviser to the board of the Scottish Police Authority as well as having responsibility for a policing budget of over £1bn.

The previous chief executive, John Foley, took early retirement at the end of August, 2017 after the SPA decided to do away with the post of chief executive and have the director of forensic services report directly to the SPA board.

This followed heavy criticism from MSPs and the police watchdog HMICS about governance of the police authority.

Mr Grover has over 25-years-experience working across the public sector.

From 2012 to 2017 he led the development of a new investment company responsible for the management of the pension assets, worth £35bn, of London's 33 local authorities.

He also served as the organisation’s first chief executive from 2015.