The Battle of Blenheim: police investigate claims that staff defrauded Duke

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With its rich collection of architectural gems, artistic treasures and historical ancestors, it has long been hailed as England's Versailles. But while Blenheim Palace attracts up to 40,000 visitors a day, the financial management of the stately home is a trickier matter.

With its rich collection of architectural gems, artistic treasures and historical ancestors, it has long been hailed as England's Versailles. But while Blenheim Palace attracts up to 40,000 visitors a day, the financial management of the stately home is a trickier matter.

Yesterday, it emerged that the owner John Spencer-Churchill, the 11th Duke of Marlborough, has called in police to investigate claims that staff have stolen millions of pounds over the past 20 years. There are suspicions among senior officials that employees at the world-famous palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, have pilfered the money via a series of long-term scams.

One of the suspected methods of theft was believed to be the use of "two for one" promotional vouchers. The staff allegedly collected them from other stately homes around the country and then entered them into the tills at Blenheim Palace while stealing the equivalent value of a single entry ticket. A full adult ticket costs £11. The vouchers were then used to account for missing cash.

Yesterday, a source close to the Duke said: "We have suspicions that there are one or two scams being run." He added: "We are investigating some elements of how this part of the business runs. We do not know whether it will prove or disprove this."

Serious anomalies in the accounts at the palace were thought to have been uncovered last year following Dominic Hare's appointment as the new finance director. It is believed that an internal inquiry was launched before the police were called in.

Stating how the matter was of "great concern" for the Duke, the source said: "Until the investigation is completed we will not know what to do." The group of staff who are suspected of masterminding the scams are understood to have worked at the palace for the past 20 years.

Blenheim Palace, is one of the best-known stately homes in the world. It was given to the 1st Duke of Marlborough by Queen Anne to reward his victory over Louis XIV's army at the Battle of Blenheim on 13 August 1704. The property, which is famously the birthplace of Winston Churchill, has acquired the status of World Heritage Site and first opened its doors to paying visitors in the 1950s.