Haswell Back At Liverpool Phili

Former Leicester De Montfort Hall manager Richard Haswell has returned to the venues business as programme manager at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, although it looks as if a veil of silence has been drawn over his 19-month suspension from his previous post.

Despite the police investigations, audit inquiries, smears, vendettas and serious allegations against senior councilors and council officers, the Leicester Mercury reckons Haswell ended up being the fall guy while others were never held to account.

The paper says the reason none of it will ever surface is because Leicester City Council – which runs the De Montfort – has paid Haswell £30,000 to keep his mouth shut.

Apparently the gag order is so tight that Haswell isn’t even allowed to tell anyone he’s signed it. All the Mercury could get out of him was that he is “very pleased that this is all over” and “I look forward to getting on with my life and the rest of my career.”

The council released a statement saying these were private matters and therefore it could not comment.

Conservative councilor Ross Grant has tried to shed some light on what really happened at the De Montfort, but claims he was repeatedly told that releasing information may compromise the authority’s legal and disciplinary proceedings.

“Richard Haswell has been put through an incredible amount of stress and I don’t know how he’s supposed to move on from here,” Grant told the Mercury. “He’s not been found guilty of anything, but he’s not been allowed to clear his name.”

The saga of Haswell’s suspension began in October 2009, after it was revealed that the De Montfort would likely bust its budget by £1.41 million within the space of two years.

An earlier independent audit by Deloitte revealed the hall’s booking records were in such disarray that the accounting consultant firm recommended a “no-blame amnesty” to get them up to date.

It also found that staff had split into two warring factions, contracts were a mess and there was an inadequate management structure, partly because key positions in the De Montfort – including that of the finance manager – had been left vacant.

Deloitte made various recommendations regarding turning the finances around, but the council appears to have ignored them in favour of bringing in staff from its museums service to find an internal solution.

It doesn’t appear to have worked, as Deloitte reported the hall had gone £586,100 over budget for the year ending March 2008, but the following year’s overspend was £825,000.

Another audit carried out by the council and the local police looked at the number of forged wristbands there had been for the 2009 Summer Sundae Festival. Police later seized computer hard-drives of several staff.

In January it was announced a fraud inquiry had been launched, but no charges were brought against Haswell and no reason was given for his continued suspension.

Haswell wasn’t taken off the city’s payroll until the beginning of May.

Liverpool Philharmonic executive director Simon Glinn released a statement May 25 to announce Haswell’s appointment. It made no mention of what’s been happening at Leicester and presumably Haswell’s new bosses have been sympathetic to his version of events.

One of the other two De Montfort staff suspended alongside Haswell has returned to work after getting a formal warning, while the other resigned after being accused of improperly trying to lobby Councilor Andy Connelly, who was Labour’s head of culture, to intervene in the disciplinary process on Haswell’s behalf.

Connelly was subsequently stripped of responsibility for the De Montfort.

When Haswell was originally suspended the council said it was a “neutral act used by management to enable investigations to take place,” but it seems that investigation failed to throw up any hard evidence against him.

It was quickly discovered that he was innocent of any wrongdoing regarding the faked wristbands, while other charges concerning his failure to declare conflicts of interest, failure to follow finance procedures and misuse of petty cash have also turned out to be lacking foundation.

Summer Sundae and the De Montfort broke box office records six times during Haswell’s 11-year stay.