Michael Matheson defends handling of Police Scotland crisis
An emergency review is now being carried into the senior management's ability to cope at the top of the national force, with chief constable Phil Gormley and Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins now sidelined as a growing crisis engulfs the body.
It emerged today that two senior officers in the firearms unit, Superintendent Kirk Kinnell and Chief Inspector Bob Glass have also been suspended after the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) launched a misconduct probe into their conduct, under direction of the Crown Office.
Mr Matheson said the alleged conduct "could be criminal in nature" but declined to elaborate on the claims.
"The individuals who are involved in this are related to those involved in the firearms unit within Police Scotland," Mr Matheson told the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland today.
"Like any investigation that could be criminal in nature it's important that we recognise that there's due process to be gone through there and also for the individuals who have the complaints lodged against them."
It emerged on Friday that Mr Higgins had also been suspended after a complaint was made. The Chief Constable is currently on "special leave" from the organisation while allegations of bullying are carried out.
Mr Matheson said: "I accept this is a challenging time, particularly for the executive team in Police Scotland.
"But what I can also say is there's a very experienced group of individuals within the executive team in Police Scotland dealing with day to day policing matters.
"The reality is that even though there are challenges which the executive team are facing at the present moment, day to day policing will continue as it is."
"What is important, though, is that we make sure the command structure has the necessary support it requires.
"That's why Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone is presently reviewing the command structure to see if he needs to add any individuals to that to support him going forward, particularly in the period when we don't have the Chef Constable here and also when we also have one of the Deputy Chief Constables suspended.
"That process is being taken forward and he will set that out in the coming days."
Mr Matheson has faced claims of being an "invisible man" as the crisis emereged in the service, but today rejected this criticism.
"No that's not the case at all," he said.
"When we created Police Scotland we created process which put in place the Police Investigation Review Commissioner (PIRC) so that they would investigate and deal with these issues.
"There is a legal process that's gone through because there's statutory provision for dealing with these issues and that's now being taken forward.
"As justice secretary I respect the due process, I'm going to allow the PIRC to take forward the investigation and I'm also going to respect the fact that the Crown Office are directing the investigation."
Police Scotland has been dogged by controversy since it was formed in 2013. It's inaugural Chief Constable Sir Stephen House quit after a series of unsavoury headlines over policing, including routine arming of patrol officers and centralisation of call centres.
It's watchdog body, the Scottish Police Authority, has also been embroiled in problems with its chairman Andrew Flanagan forced to quit earlier this year, while chief executive john Foley retired early.
An independent probe is also being carried out into seven Police Scotland Officers over gross misconduct amid claims that they obtained communications data without judicial permission while trying to identify a journalist's sources in the investigation into the death of prostitute Emma Caldwell.