National Railway Museum internal audit rejects nepotism allegation

Review finds 'no impropriety' after claim that husband of a curator was awarded contracts without facing a competitive tender

National Railway Museum
National Railway Museum

An internal review into allegations of impropriety at the National Railway Museum has concluded that they were without foundation.

The museum in York instigated an audit when it found itself at the centre of a nepotism row after allegations that the husband of one of its curators was awarded contracts without facing a competitive tender.

The investigation looked at whether there had been any impropriety after Adrian Ashby, the husband of Helen Ashby, who is head of knowledge and collections at the museum, received about £25,000 for work conducted in relation to the painting of rail exhibits and his involvement in UK and Canadian productions of the museum’s stage show The Railway Children.

The museum is part of the Science Museum Group and is classed as an exempt charity.

The report found no evidence of any wrongdoing, but said the NRM plans to provide enhanced training and guidance to staff about conflicts of interest and procurement. It will also make additional checks on the procurement and management of cumulative spend with any one person.

The museum’s investigation looked into whether there had been impropriety surrounding the relationship between the NRM and Mr Ashby, who had a 34-year history with the charity as a volunteer, paid casual employee and painting contractor. He met his wife at the museum.

The audit team examined invoices and paperwork relating to his work and discussed the procurement process with the commissioning officers. Its report concluded: "Whilst this review has highlighted areas where processes can be enhanced, we have found no evidence of impropriety or evidence that this work was awarded to Mr Ashby due to the influence of his wife."

The team also looked into the circumstances surrounding an £84 order for picnic food from Ashby’s Delicatessen, formerly owned by Mr Ashby’s son-in-law. The report said that, given the short notice and the small amount, it was "not unreasonable".

Steve Davies, director of the NRM, said: "Mrs Ashby is a valued member of the museum team, known for her high moral values and public spiritedness, and Mr Ashby has been a volunteer for more than three decades and has an excellent track record of delivering high-quality engineering and rail operations work."

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