Off with his head! Decorated chief executive of Royal Armouries is suspended over auditing inquiry

 

The boss of Britain's oldest museum has been suspended over an auditing inquiry, only four years after a similar crisis. Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley, who commanded Nato troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, has stepped down from his £95,000-a-year job as both Director General and Master of the Royal Armouries, a post dating back to the 15th century.

The unexplained suspension comes after Paul Evans, Lt-Gen Riley's predecessor, left under a cloud in 2008, also after an audit. Mr Evans resigned pending an internal investigation into "potential irregularities", but these were never revealed and the inquiry was dropped after he left. A spokesman for the Royal Armouries, the UK's national collection of arms, armour and artillery, said the two cases should not be seen in the same light, but would not elaborate.

Lt-Gen Riley has been in the post since 2009, having served for 36 years with the British Army. During a distinguished career, he rose to become deputy commander of Isaf (the International Security Assistance Force), serving six tours of Northern Ireland and five in the Balkans. He gave evidence at the 2011 trial of Radovan Karadzic in The Hague, and is the author of 10 books on military history. He is married to the Welsh television news presenter Sara Edwards.

Originally housed in the Tower of London, the Royal Armouries has been based in a purpose-built museum in Leeds since 1996, though it has outposts at the Tower of London and at Fort Nelson in Portsmouth. The collection includes many objects of national importance, including four of the six surviving personal armours of Henry VIII.

A perk of the Master's job is spending the occasional night in the White Tower, the keep at the heart of the Tower of London. Earlier this year, Ms Edwards described the couple's "old-fashioned courtship", and the thrill of sleeping at the Tower.

"We met in quite an unusual way. He was a military man, and on a very dangerous operation in a very dangerous place. And he saw me reporting about the operation on the news, and wrote to me. We wrote to each other for a year before we got together... he is in charge of the armour and all of the things within the White Tower, but not the Crown Jewels – although we do get to see them, which is a great thrill."

Lt-Gen Riley's departure comes amid cutbacks at the Armouries, which is a quango of the Department of Media, Culture and Sport. According to its latest report, its budget has been slashed by £4.4m over four years, putting "tremendous pressure on the Royal Armouries' operations". The report showed no reduction in directors' remuneration.

The nature of the auditing issue remains confidential. The Armouries' 2010/11 accounts are said not to disclose any problems and were passed by the Government's Auditor General in June 2011.

A spokesman said: "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, a former head of the Science Museum, has been appointed as an interim chief executive.

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