The head of the force which cleared Sir Keir Starmer of breaking lockdown rules is a frontrunner for the job of leading Police Scotland.

Jo Farrell, who heads Durham Constabulary, is vying to replace Sir Iain Livingstone as Chief Constable of the UK’s second-largest force, alongside Sir Iain’s current deputy, Malcolm Graham.

Her contract was extended last June by three years, shortly before Labour leader Sir Keir and his deputy Angela Rayner were cleared of breaching lockdown regulations after being pictured drinking beer and eating a takeaway curry with party colleagues.

Sir Keir and Ms Rayner attended the event in Durham in April 2021 when strict lockdown rules were in place. Durham Police carried out a two-month investigation and concluded there had been no breach of the ban on indoor mixing as the gathering was work-related.

Ms Farrell later argued the ‘Beergate’ probe was necessary to maintain public confidence in policing and the decision to investigate was taken because of the ‘weight of material’ passed to the force.

The Mail has now learned Ms Farrell and Mr Graham are the only candidates for Police Scotland’s top job, which has a salary of £232,000 a year.

Jo Farrell led the force that cleared Starmer of a possible lockdown rules breach in April 2021

Jo Farrell led the force that cleared Starmer of a possible lockdown rules breach in April 2021

Former Scottish Police Federation general secretary Calum Steele said the fact just two people applied was a ‘damning indictment of the development of police leadership across the UK’.

When she was made Durham’s Chief Constable in June 2019, Ms Farrell became the first woman to hold the £156,958-a-year post in the 180-year history of the force.

Ms Farrell started her career as a constable in Cambridge in 1991. Last year, she said: ‘Although I don’t have any family connection with the police, I always wanted to join and was so proud when I first became an officer.’

The Police Scotland job became available after Sir Iain dramatically announced he was quitting in February, two years ahead of his contract ending.

At the time, he warned his force was facing ‘unsustainable’ funding pressures. Sir Iain had previously said his officers would no longer be able to investigate certain crimes due to budgetary pressures and ‘systemic under-funding’.

Last night, Mr Steele said: ‘It is astonishing only two people have come forward for such a big role and doesn’t reflect well on leadership development here.

‘The other issue is the intensely politicised nature of policing in England, where Police Commissioners – which we don’t have in Scotland – have power over the contracts of police chiefs.

‘If someone in a senior position applies for a job and doesn’t get it, it can be perceived as disloyalty – and the Commissioner wouldn’t extend their contract, for example. So that creates an incestuous situation and isn’t always conducive to people applying for big jobs outside their own force.

‘In Scotland, it is surprising we don’t have Assistant Chief Constables (ACCs) clambering over each other for the top job.’

It was determined Starmer had not breached rules as the gathering was work-related

It was determined Starmer had not breached rules as the gathering was work-related

Mr Graham, whose career began in 1995 at Lothian and Borders Police, was formerly ACC for major crime, public protection and local crime, when Police Scotland was created in 2013. He became Deputy Chief Constable in 2019.

One police source said Mr Graham’s lack of experience outside Scotland may count against him.

The Scottish Police Authority – which is in charge of the recruitment process – said that it was ‘on track to make an announcement by mid-June’.

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