POLICE Scotland’s leadership crisis will not affect the force’s ability to keep Scots safe, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has promised.

In a statement to Holyrood, the SNP minister insisted the operations of the service will “continue as normal”.

The force was rocked last week when Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins was one of four officers suspended after watchdogs received allegations of criminal activity.

One of those allegations against Higgins was that the force’s firing range was used for unauthorised purposes.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley, is also still off active duty on “special leave” after the Scottish Police Authority received complaints accusing him of bullying.

Both men deny any wrongdoing.

Matheson told MSPs it was wrong to suggest any difficulties at the top of Police Scotland affected the overall performance of the force.

“The latest national statistics show that recorded crime is at a 43-year low and public confidence in the police remains strong. All local areas have seen a significant reduction in overall recorded crime over the longer term.

“The number of non-sexual violent crimes recorded has fallen 49 per cent between 2006-07 and 2016-17, and remains at one of its lowest levels since 1974.

“And cases of homicide have fallen by 47 per cent in the past ten years.”

He added that Police Scotland continued to provide an “excellent local service to communities that I believe is the match of policing anywhere in the world”.

Opposition politicians accused him of being “complacent”.

Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “Despite the tireless work of officers and staff on the frontline which I applaud, the public fear the police service is in a critical state and the cabinet secretary is refusing to admit it.”

Labour’s Claire Baker also criticised Matheson saying: “Given the past few days this statement looks complacent.

“The Cabinet Secretary must take responsibility for what happens on his watch, and there are legitimate concerns.”

Matheson stressed the investigations process must be allowed to continue. He told the chamber: “I have stated in recent days this is a challenging set of circumstances for the executive team at Police Scotland.

“No one would wish to be in this particular situation with an officer suspended and a chief constable who is presently on extended leave.

“But there is now an investigation into these incidents and we now have to wait for that process to be completed.”

Earlier, Derek Penman, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, said he believed Police Scotland is “well-served by the many senior officers, team leaders and support staff managers who provide essential day-to-day leadership across the country’’.

Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has insisted there will be no leadership void while the investigations take place, and has made Chief Superintendents Gillian MacDonald and Alan Speirs temporary ACCs.