Museum boss suspended for ‘unsupported’ staff pay rises

Retired army officer was forced out for awarding Royal Armouries workers thousands of pounds

The sudden departure last year of the boss of Britain’s oldest museum, the Royal Armouries, prompted much military speculation.

Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley, a retired infantry officer, former Nato commander and distinguished military historian, was suspended as Master of the Armouries over an auditing inquiry in May, only to resign from the post six months later. It can now be revealed that he was suspended after senior staff were given irregularly large pay increases at a time when the museum’s budget was being slashed.

A damning report into the accounts of the UK’s national museum of arms and armour by the Government’s auditor-general also found that it broke guidelines on expenses, conflicts of interest and procurement.

No explanation was given when Lt-Gen Riley resigned from his £95,000-a-year post in November, other than that he wanted to do more work for the International Criminal Court in The Hague and that he was in poor health.

The Armouries’ latest accounts which were due to be filed last July, but were delayed because of auditing issues, were finally laid before Parliament at the end of March. The report said: “Allegations were made relating to the regularity of certain  actions which led to the suspension of Jonathon Riley whilst investigations were undertaken.”

Its strongest criticism involved  salary increases for senior staff which, according to the report, broke Treasury guidelines. It said the Armouries awarded one employee two pay rises of £5,000 and £4,000, while another received an increase of £6,000.

There was insufficient evidence that due process was followed in awarding these pay increases, and insufficient documentation to support any exceptional circumstances, the auditor said. A further £7,000 was awarded to a third employee in 2012/13, in excess of increases permitted by the Government. The auditor-general, Amyas Morse, said in the report for the National Audit Office (NAO), that the “existing policies, procedure and culture … relating to procurement and expense payments” needed to be “strengthened”.

The Royal Armouries originally housed its collections at the Tower of London but moved to a purpose-built museum in Leeds in 1996. In a statement, the museum’s chairman, Wes Paul, said: “We acted swiftly and appropriately to work with the NAO to ensure that these irregularities will not happen again. They are deeply regrettable but I am confident we now have the correct safeguards in place.”

The Royal Armouries said last night that it was not prepared to comment on Lt-Gen Riley’s situation.

During a long and distinguished army career, Lt-Gen Riley, a former honorary colonel of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, commanded British peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Iraq, and served for two years from 2007 as the deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

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