IN the five years since Police Scotland was cobbled together out of Scotland's eight regional police forces, it has been in a state of almost continuous crisis. It has had two chief constables and both of them have resigned under a cloud, the latest being Phil Gormley, the former head of the National Crime Agency. He finally handed in his badge last week after succumbing to a succession of gross misconduct allegations, the validity of which have yet to be properly investigated more than seven months after the first was made.

The newly-installed head of the Scottish Police Authority, Susan Deacon, formerly of the Institute of Directors, says it's time to draw a line under the Gormley episode. Nothing to see here. Move along please. Well, sorry but that isn't good enough. This whole affair has been handled with all the transparency and due process of a black-balling in a masonic lodge. We have not been informed of the nature of the allegations made against the chief constable or who made them. What has been revealed, besides any individual failings, is a culture of incompetence and factionalism at the highest levels of the Scottish police. There has also been bumbling ministerial interference in a supposedly independent force.

I don't know if Gormley is a monster or a saint but he isn't your average PC Plod. In his 32 years in the force he's been chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary, deputy chief constable of West Midlands police and a commander of special operations at the Metropolitan Police, responsible for counter-terrorism. He was appointed in 2016 to his £214,000 post as boss of Police Scotland, and has spent most of the past year tending his roses.

If someone like Gormley has failed to thrive in the oppressive climate of Scottish law enforcement we need to know why. It is not acceptable for those who enforce the law to behave like a Cosa Nostra, judging their leader in secret cabals, and forcing him to resign without the claims against him ever being investigated or aired. How can we have confidence in a police service which seems to have abandoned any concept of natural justice?

Three months ago, the independent Scottish Police Authority voted unanimously that Gormley should return to work, the Police Investigation and Review Commissioner (PIRC) having failed to come up with any substance to the allegations against him. The SPA view, presumably, was that the Scottish Police needed leadership and taxpayers needed to get their money's worth. But the Scottish Justice Minister, Michael Matheson, who is supposed to have no say over the independent SPA decisions, made clear that he wasn't happy. He reportedly pressured the chair of the SPA, Andrew Flanagan, to order Gormley back onto gardening leave, even as the chief constable was driving back from Norfolk to resume his duties. That episode led to Flanagan's departure after a series of stormy confrontations with a parliamentary committee.

The known misconduct allegations against Gormley involve bullying. Many will find the idea of hardened top cops bullying each other faintly ridiculous, but these are serious charges and we have a right to know whether there is any substance to them.

In fact, we have a right to know what else is going on in the Scottish Police. The head of armed policing, assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins is currently suspended along with three other officers over "criminal and misconduct allegations". Again, we don't know what these charges are because they are being kept firmly in house, perhaps in the hope that they'll also go quietly. This is no way to run an amusement arcade, let alone a nation's police force.

Since its birth, Police Scotland has shown all the signs of institutional dysfunctionality. It announced its arrival in 2013 by conducting heavy-handed raids on sex workers in Edinburgh saunas, who claimed they were strip-searched and had condoms removed. Some 11 people were charged with brothel-keeping under Operation Windermere, but after three years all the charges were dropped. Edinburgh's enlightened approach to gay, trans and heterosexual saunas has been undermined in the process, leaving a breach of trust between sex workers and the police.

Next year it emerged that Police Scotland had been conducting nine times as many stop and search operations as the New York Police Department. In some areas there'd been a 400 per cent increase since the force was merged. Thousands of children were being stopped and searched, some as young as seven years old. After the United Nations Human Rights Commission condemned the practice, Police Scotland agreed to desist collaring the under-aged, and to review its self-serving doctrine of “consensual” stop and search. But public anxieties persisted as reports emerged of armed police appearing at traffic accidents and street altercations in Scottish cities. Sir Stephen House, the then chief constable, had to issue an order banning police from routinely carrying guns. That he had to make this suggested that the police service in Scotland was out of control.

Sir Stephen eventually resigned in late 2015 following the deaths of two motorists, who lay in their crashed car on the M9 for three days after a phone call was not properly logged by the police. House's successor, Phil Gormley, looked like the most able candidate for the post. Yet within months of his appointment there were questions about his management style.

The first complaint of bullying was made against him in July 2017 and five more followed. He was suspended in September only to be reinstated in November when nothing emerged from the Police Investigations Review Commission (PIRC). The PIRC commissioner, Kate Frame, insists that the investigations were conducted “timeously”. But there is a suspicion that the PIRC was dragging out the misconduct investigation in the hope that Gormley would get fed up and resign of his own accord, which he finally did last week, with an unusually modest £60,000 pay-off.

I have never met the former chief constable. He certainly ruffled feathers. But the decision to reinstate Gormley was a unanimous one taken by the entire board of the SPA. Perhaps they should all now be walking the plank. And if anyone was behaving like a soviet commissar, it was surely Mr Mathieson himself who is under pressure to resign.

But the most important issue here is the public right to know what is going on in the service they pay for. Gormley was one of the most senior policemen in the entire UK, decorated by the Queen, who specialised in combatting terrorism and organised crime. If he is forced out through unsubstantiated charges of gross misconduct, then it doesn't take Inspector John Rebus to tell you that there's something fishy going on in Police Scotland.