Royal Academy chief quits after probe into 'missing' £80,000

The art school of the Royal Academy, which has trained artists including JMW Turner and William Blake, was rocked yesterday by the surprise resignation of its top professor after an investigation into financial irregularities.

The art school of the Royal Academy, which has trained artists including JMW Turner and William Blake, was rocked yesterday by the surprise resignation of its top professor after an investigation into financial irregularities.

Professor Brendan Neiland's resignation was accepted by the council of the Royal Academy at a special meeting on Wednesday after an investigation discovered "an unauthorised bank account in the schools and a pattern of unauthorised deposits and disbursements" involving £80,000. A statement from the Academy said the incident was in breach of its financial management standards.

The professor, whose official title was Keeper of the Royal Academy, has temporarily left the country and a successor will be appointed at a general meeting of the Academy members - or Academicians - in September.

The resignation comes as a blow to the RA, which has a long track record of personal and financial disputes.

Professor Philip King, the current RA President, assumed the role of Acting Keeper yesterday and moved swiftly to distance the problems at the Schools from the exhibition programme, for which the Academy is best known to the public.

He said in a statement: "This is a regrettable business which we have investigated and addressed promptly and firmly.

"We can reassure our many generous supporters and visitors that the irregularities identified were isolated to the Schools. None of this will affect the Academy's exhibitions and work, or the Schools' activities when term resumes."

No formal complaint has been made to the Metropolitan Police about what are being described as "administrative and financial irregularities". However, the force has been made aware of the Academy's on-going internal investigation. Future police involvement has not been ruled out.

In his statement, Professor King said yesterday "the total sum not properly documented is approximately £80,000". But the Academy either would not, or could not, say whether any money was actually missing.

Professor Neiland, 62, a painter and printmaker who lives and works in London, was elected to the Royal Academy in 1992 and appointed to his post as Keeper six years ago. His works have been shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum and are in the collections of the Arts Council and the Tate.

His departure comes after a turbulent few months at the Royal Academy whose flamboyant exhibitions secretary, Norman Rosenthal, was said to have fallen out with Lawton Fitt, officially known as the RA's Secretary but effectively the chief executive.

It is not the first personnel difficulty at the institution. David Gordon, who resigned as RA secretary two years ago after clashing with the president Philip King, called it an organisation where everything was in crisis because of an absence of long-term planning. He had been brought in following another financial scandal eight years ago when Trevor Clark, the bursar, was dismissed for stealing £400,000. Clark was sentenced to five years in prison.

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