'Serious questions' for police over Gary Verity investigation, says peer

West Yorkshire Police have “serious questions to answer” over the handling of its investigation into expense spending by former tourism chief Sir Gary Verity, a Yorkshire peer has said.

Sir Gary Verity repaid over £40,000 to Welcome to Yorkshire.

Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven said he was concerned about the police’s handling of complaints about Sir Gary’s expense spending while he was the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.

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West Yorkshire Police has very serious questions to answer about both its neutrality and competence in investigating this,” he said.

Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven. Picture: Scott Merrylees

Police have stressed there was “no adverse bearing” on its investigation from the publication of the report as no criminal conduct was found.

Sir Gary resigned on health grounds from Welcome to Yorkshire in March 2019 amid allegations about expenses spending. The tourism agency initially did not speak to the police about the matter but following a complaint about the matter by Lord Scriven, an investigation was launched.

In July 2019, Welcome to Yorkshire published an independent report about expenses spending at the organisation, which highlighted £26,000 that were “personal” and “not incurred wholly for the benefit of WtY”, while there were other claims that may have had “both a business and personal element” but a “lack of specific guidelines or policies to govern entertainment expenses” meant it was not possible to determine how many.

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”.

In June 2020, West Yorkshire Police announced it was taking no further action in the matter. In February this year, it was revealed Sir Gary had repaid £44,413 to the organisation.

While there was 11 months between the publication of the Welcome to Yorkshire report on expenses spending and police announcing the end of its investigation, it was revealed earlier this week that police officials had told a member of a public about concerns of the hypothetical impact of the inquiry findings being published.

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

Ramona Senior, The Head of the Economic Crime Unit for West Yorkshire Police, told The Yorkshire Post on Monday: “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.”

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.”

Lord Scriven said: “The new police and crime commissioner needs to relook at this.

“My view is West Yorkshire Police and the new police and crime commissioner need to look very carefully at why they have seemed to have a reluctant approach to this and then sent this contradictory statement to a member of the public.”

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