Even pessimists would have struggled to predict that policing in Scotland would fare worse in 2017 than in the previous year.

In 2016, Police Scotland continued to be dogged by an illegal spying scandal and struggled to cope with huge financial problems. It was a public service on the brink.

However, the force’s staunchest supporters would have to concede that this year has been an annus horribilis.

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The Scottish Police Authority, which is supposed to oversee Police Scotland, lost its chair after bullying allegations were made and the body’s chief executive took early retirement after making a raft of questionable decisions.

In the force itself, chief constable Phil Gormley went on “special leave” over separate bullying allegations, and several senior officers were suspended over an unrelated row.

Today’s astonishing revelations will trouble anyone with a passing concern for public sector governance.

Documents obtained by the Sunday Herald show the SPA board unanimously agreed to allow Gormley to go back to work in November.

However, the communications reveal this outcome never materialised. Gormley’s lawyer suspects the government is responsible.

If Justice Secretary Michael Matheson succeeded in overturning a decision by the SPA board, serious questions must be asked.

The SPA, for all its flaws, should be allowed to get on with its job without the heavy hand of Government interference. We cannot have policing under remote control from St Andrews House.

Matheson must make an urgent statement about these claims and re-iterate the importance of oversight bodies being given operational independence.