BEAMISH Museum’s director, Richard Evans, has been suspended from his post as part of an inquiry into financial concerns raised at the popular visitor attraction, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Trustees were informed he is facing a disciplinary hearing regarding the matter at a recent meeting while staff and volunteers at the open-air tourist draw were told this morning.

At the trustees’ meeting it is understood the board secretary Helen Lynch, who is also Head of Legal and Democratic Services at Durham County Council, said an investigation was completed at the end of August.

She said the matter needed to be referred to a disciplinary hearing and Mr Evans’ suspension would remain in place until then.

A spokesperson from Beamish Museum, said: “We can confirm that a member of staff has been suspended pending a disciplinary hearing. 

"It is important to say that suspension is not an implication of any wrongdoing. Until the process has concluded it would not be appropriate to comment further.

“However, we would like to reassure people that this situation will not affect the operation of the museum in any way, and our number one priority – as always – will continue to be providing an excellent experience for our visitors.”

Mr Evans, director of Beamish since 2008, is believed to receive a salary of around £90,000 and it is understood he is suspended on full pay.

He leads a team of more than 430 staff, supported by 500-plus volunteers and more than 2,000 friends and business partners at what is one of the region’s most visited attractions.

The Northern Echo understands concerns were raised and an audit of the organisation’s finances was carried out by Durham County Council.

The local authority has three representatives on the Board of Trustees for Beamish Museum and last year, it provided £20,000 to the museum as grant funding.
When contacted by The Northern Echo the council declined to comment on the audit.

The museum is currently working on delivering a £23m masterplan to redevelop the museum, which includes a reconstructed 1950s town and a Georgian coaching house.

The Remaking Beamish project won a £10.9million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and work is now underway.

Visitor numbers since Mr Evans took over have more than doubled with around 750,000 people visiting throughout the year.

Prior to working at Beamish, Mr Evans was the director of the Wentworth Castle and Stainborough Park restoration project, near Barnsley, and development officer for New Lanark World Heritage Village in Scotland.

Mr Evans is chairman of the Association of Independent Museums, a member of the National Museum Directors’ Council, a North East HLF committee member, and is on the board of the North East Cultural Partnership.

Beamish Museum opened in 1970 and was the first museum in the country to be financed and administered by a consortium of county councils.

Beamish Museum was registered as a charity in 2006, but continues to receive support from local authorities, including Durham County Council, Sunderland City Council, Gateshead Council, South Tyneside Council and North Tyneside Council.

It is understood the Board of Trustees help to manage and operate the running of the organisation, which was previously undertaken by the Beamish Joint Committee made up people from contributing councils in the region.

A spokesman for The Charity Commission said: “According to our records, Beamish Museum have not reported any financial concerns or governance issues to the commission.

“More generally, trustees, as the custodians of charity, are under an obligation to act in the best interests of their charity, this includes ensuring funds are carefully stewarded towards the charity’s mission and purpose.”

A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said the matter has not been reported to them.

Mr Evans has been given the opportunity to comment through the museum.