Armouries suspends head in probe over accounts

Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley
Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley
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THE head of the Royal Armouries has been suspended over an auditing irregularity.

Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley, a past deputy commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, is under temporary suspension, pending the outcome of a review of issues raised by auditors.

Lt-Gen Riley took over as director general of the Royal Armouries and master of the Armouries – a post which dates back to the 15th century – in 2009, following the resignation of Paul Evans, who had been previously been suspended pending an internal investigation into “potential irregularities” at the museum.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Armouries said: “The Director General and Master of the Royal Armouries, Lt-Gen Jonathon Riley, is currently under temporary suspension, pending the outcome of a review of issues raised by our auditors.

“The Royal Armouries is unable to make any further comment at this time.

“Andrew Scott has been appointed as interim CEO and Accounting Officer while the review process is ongoing.”

The nature of the auditing issue remains confidential. The accounts for the last financial year were passed by the Government’s auditor general, Amyas Morse, in June 2011.

Lt-Gen Riley, who served in the British Army for 36 years, rising to become deputy commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, is the formal accounting officer, which means that he holds responsibility for financial and auditing matters.

Following his appointment in 2009, he described the Royal Armouries as his “dream job”.

Mr Evans resigned in 2008 pending an internal investigation into “potential irregularities”. The investigation stalled after Mr Evans was signed off sick and became too unwell to attend formal hearings.

He had been appointed chief executive of the museum in 2003, after two years as chief operating officer.

The nature of the issues remained confidential and the inquiry was dropped after Mr Evans’s resignation.

Mr Scott retired in 2010 as Director of the Science Museum Group having previously spent 15 years as Director of the National Railway Museum in York. His experience includes more than 10 years as chair of Visit York, the city’s tourism marketing organisation.

The Armouries’ main base is its Leeds museum, but it also has displays at the Tower of London, Fort Nelson in Portsmouth and in Louisville, Kentucky, United States.

Visitor numbers have fluctuated, and last year fell by 40 per cent. The Armouries has faced some criticism over curatorial and academic work, but won praise for extending its expertise on weaponry into fields such as peace activism and campaigning against knife crime. It had a troubled birth as one of the earliest private finance initiative projects, and struggled initially to attract large numbers of visitors to its home in Leeds.

The £42.5m project opened in 1996 on time and to budget, but within three years its cumulative losses topped £10m.

The private company involved re-financed twice with its bankers, but the museum shortly afterwards came under the wing of the department, with extra Government funding and free entry in place of the charges previously imposed.

Visitors increased dramatically and the wasteland around the building by the river Aire was developed with flats, restaurants and offices.

However, between April and June 2011, 50,313 people visited the attraction, compared to 81,817 in the same period in 2010.

The museum has also had to absorb funding cuts amounting to £4.4m over four years.