THE chair of Scotland’s police watchdog has stepped down with immediate effect after saying the system she was supposed to oversee is “fundamentally flawed”.

In a blistering resignation letter, Susan Deacon said she had made every effort to ensure the effective operation of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) during her two years in post.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Susan Deacon resigns.Camley's Cartoon: Susan Deacon resigns.

“However, I have increasingly become convinced that the governance and accountability arrangements for policing in Scotland are fundamentally flawed, in structure, culture and practice,” she told Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf.

“I conclude that there is little more I can do to make these arrangements work effectively,” she added.

Professor Deacon also said the Scottish Government should “think afresh about how the police service is scrutinised and held to account”, and whether there should be more separation between politics and policing and between the police service and the SPA.

In September, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland said there was an inherent conflict of interest in the SPA being both a service provider to Police Scotland, setting its £1billion budget, while also being its scrutiny body.

READ MORE: Former MSP Susan Deacon becomes first woman to chair Institute of Directors in Scotland

The opposition parties said the SPA was in “crisis” and called for a review of the SNP’s centralisation policy that created it six years ago.

Prof Deacon, a former Labour minister, is the third chair to leave the SPA since its formation in 2013 as part of the merger of Scotland’s eight regional police forces into one. The SPA is also on its fourth chief executive.

Her departure comes after widespread suggestions - even from Police Scotland - that her board was not doing a good job at scrutinising the force.

Informing Holyrood’s justice committee of the departure, Mr Yousaf said he had accepted Prof Deacon’s resignation “with immediate effect”.

He wrote: “As Ms Deacon herself acknowledges, our police service is in a much stronger place now than prior to her appointment.”

However he made no reference whatsoever to her brutal criticisms, and insisted he was “encouraged that significant progress has been made”. 

READ MORE: Police oversight chief Susan Deacon blames predecessor for failings

The SPA said its vice-chair, David Crichton, would take acting control.

The body added: “The Members of the Authority wish to acknowledge the significant contribution that Susan Deacon has made as Chair of the SPA over the past two years.

“She took up the role at a period of considerable instability in the police service. That Police Scotland now has a strong, resilient leadership team in place is testimony to her contribution to the improvement of policing in that period.

“We believe that the system of governance and accountability for policing in Scotland that was envisaged by the founding legislation is a sound one and can work effectively.”

"Members of the Authority are fully committed to taking forward the range of work required within the SPA and with other partners to do so.

“While we respect this personal decision of the Chair, our collective focus will be on working together with our dedicated staff team to build on recent progress, deliver the actions and improvements already identified, and redouble the SPA’s focus on the issues of greatest importance to policing and the public.”

In her letter to Mr Yousaf, Prof Deacon said: "I have, as you have frequently acknowledged, worked tirelessly to try and ensure that the SPA operates effectively, and that public confidence and trust in policing is maintained.

"I have also made every effort to attempt to make the existing statutory framework operate as I believe it was intended.

"In truth, however, I have increasingly become convinced that the governance and accountability arrangements for policing in Scotland are fundamentally flawed, in structure, culture and practice, and I conclude that there is little more I can do to make these arrangements work effectively.

"I would suggest that the Scottish Government thinks afresh about how the police service is scrutinised and held to account and how, or if, a better separation between politics and policing, and indeed between the police service and those who oversee it, can be achieved. I would be pleased to share my thoughts and reflections on these matters with you, and indeed with the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, at any time."

READ MORE: Susan Deacon's resignation letter to Humza Yousaf as SPA chair stands down


Liam McArthur

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said: "Susan Deacon did the best she could with a broken system. Liberal Democrats have been telling the SNP Government since day one that it hardwired flaws into the national force. It botched the centralisation, causing chaos.

"The national force hasn't had stable leadership at any point in its six year existence. How many more chief constables and chairs does it need to quit to drive this fact home?

"Overstretched officers and staff deserve so much better, particularly since we found out that the job is making many of them unwell and only 3% believe the force really cared about them.

“Powers over policing should be shared, rather than hoarded on the desk of the Justice Secretary. An independent expert review of how policing structures are operating is essential to inject accountability, transparency and localism back into the system."

At First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon was dismissive of Ms Deacon’s complaint, saying she disagreed with it. 

She told Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr: “Susan Deacon is entitled to her opinion on that and I would be very happy to hear the basis on which she has reached that conclusion. However, I do not agree with that conclusion.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Police Scotland was “in crisis” and called for a reversal of the 2013 centralisation, blaming “a toxic mix of chaos and complacency” for its woes.

Ms Sturgeon said Police Scotland was not in crisis, and accused Mr Rennie of doing officers a disservice with his claim.

She said: “The chair of the SPA has tendered her resignation. She has her own reasons for doing so, but the vice chair will take over the leadership of the Scottish Police Authority until a replacement is appointed, through the public appointments process.

“We will continue to support the police officers of our country in doing the fantastic job that they do, day in and day out, in keeping crime levels low and ensuring that the public of Scotland are kept safe. We should all thank them for doing so.”

Mr Rennie said that, with a recent survey finding a third of police officers working while mentally unwell, Ms Sturgeon was “in cloudcuckooland” if she thought that was satisfactory.

She replied: “The SNP Government has invested in, and supported, 1,000 extra police officers on the streets in Scotland, while police officer numbers elsewhere in the UK were being slashed. We have delivered the best pay rise for police in any police service in the UK. We will continue to support our police officers to do the fantastic work that they do to get crime levels down, and to keep the public of Scotland safe.

“I had thought that Willie Rennie might - on the morning after the leader of the Liberal Democrats was forced to apologise for the Liberal Democrats’ support of Tory austerity, which has had such a damaging impact on our public services -have had a bit more humility when talking about public services.”

Calling for an “immediate review” of the merger, Mr Kerr said: “In its short life the SPA has now gone through three different chairs. That’s completely unacceptable, and clearly this is an organisation in crisis. 

“The SNP government has made a complete mess of centralising Scotland’s police force, and must take full responsibility for these failings.”

Labour claimed no public services were safe in Ms Sturgeon’s hands.

MSP James Kelly said: “This resignation reveals the SPA is an organisation in crisis. Due to the SNP’s short-sighted and shambolic approach to policing morale is at an all time low. The SPA is structurally flawed and in need of a radical shake-up. 

“Nicola Sturgeon needs to get a grip and answer the serious questions over the governance and accountability of the SPA.”