Police chiefs claimed Welcome to Yorkshire report publication 'would have undermined hypothetical prosecution of Gary Verity'

Senior police officers claimed that Welcome to Yorkshire’s decision to publish findings about expenses spending at the organisation would have “undermined” any potential prosecution of its former chief executive Sir Gary Verity if criminal offences had been found, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

Gary Verity resigned from Welcome to Yorkshire in March 2019.

In a letter sent in November to a member of the public who had complained about the police’s handling of complaints about Sir Gary’s expense spending while he was head of the tourism agency, a representative of then West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said he had met with West Yorkshire Police over the summer.

It followed an announcement by police that no further action would be taken against Sir Gary following an investigation into expense spending.

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The letter stated: “Mr Burns-Williamson explored with WYP your concerns about the investigation involving Mr Verity that reached the conclusion that no criminal offences were proved. This briefing took place over the summer.”

Sir Gary Verity was recently seen at the England Test match at Headingley alongside Geoffrey Boycott in one of his first public appearances since his resignation. Picture: PA Photo.

It added: “As you may be aware, Welcome to Yorkshire made public key findings from the investigation into expenses which raised concerns about governance, policies, systems and processes.

“Had any criminal offences been found, these findings would have undermined any prosecution and any realistic chance of success.”

The complainant, a man named Josh Horne from Skipton, wrote again to the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office in May after new West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin had assumed responsibility for it.

He received a response that the PCC’s office had “nothing further to add” to the original letter.

Mr Horne contacted The Yorkshire Post about the matter as he said he was “baffled” by the response and did not agree that the publication of WTY’s investigations should have affected any potential prosecution.

He said his interest in the case was as a council taxpayer concerned at how money has been used at Welcome to Yorkshire, which is a private company but receives around half of its funding from public sector bodies - mainly local authorities.

Police said today that while the publication of the WTY reports had “no adverse bearing” on the investigation, if a criminal prosecution had been pursued “the issues identified within the report would have been potentially limiting factors”.

Ramona Senior, the head of the Economic Crime Unit for West Yorkshire Police, said: “We were aware of the publication of the report by Welcome to Yorkshire and this publication did not have any adverse bearing on our investigation.

“Had any criminal prosecution been pursued the issues identified within the independent report would have been potentially limiting factors.”

Sir Gary resigned from Welcome to Yorkshire in March 2019 on health grounds in the midst of allegations about expense spending and behaviour towards staff. He had been chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire since it was formed in 2009 as the successor organisation to the Yorkshire Tourist Board and was paid a salary of over £240,000.

WtY subsequently ordered two independent investigations - one of which concerned expense spending at the organisation.

Forensic accountants BDO examined £900,000 worth of claims by senior managers and board members over a six-year period and identified around £26,000 that were ‘personal’ and ‘not incurred wholly for the benefit of WtY’.

But the report added there were other claims that may have had “both a business and personal element” but it had been unable to conclude precisely how many such claims there had been due to a lack of documentary evidence from WtY as well as a “lack of specific guidelines or policies to govern entertainment expenses”.

The report did not state how many of the claims related to Sir Gary but interim chairman Keith Stewart told the Yorkshire Post at the time that apart from one claim for another person of less than £200, all of the ‘personal’ spending identified related to Sir Gary with the money subsequently repaid in full.

The report revealed that investigators had found “an increasing number of missing receipts, specifically for credit card expense claims”. It said there was evidence of expense claims outside of policy limits - mainly relating to hotels, food and beverages, while there was “an increase in the use of luxurious hotels and fine-dining restaurants during the most recent periods we examined”.

In a statement issued at the time, a spokesman for Sir Gary said “all expenses went through the proper processes and were signed off by both the chairman and the audit committee”.

The findings of the report and further details were passed to the police as part of their parallel investigation into the issue.

In June 2020, West Yorkshire Police announced it would be taking no further action as a result of its probe.

When Welcome to Yorkshire’s accounts were published in February this year, it was revealed Sir Gary had repaid £44,413 to the organisation.

Alison Lowe, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, said: “West Yorkshire Police concluded their investigation into this matter in 2020 with no further action taken.

“I recognise the public interest in this case, but this was firmly an operational decision which is the responsibility of the police.”

A spokesperson for Welcome to Yorkshire said: “Sir Gary Verity left Welcome to Yorkshire in March 2019 and at the time the circumstances of his departure from the organisation were well documented. Welcome to Yorkshire cannot comment further on this matter.”

Lawyers for Sir Gary Verity were contacted for comment but did not respond.

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