Harrogate man charged with £178k theatre fraud

Leeds Grand Theatre

Leeds Grand Theatre

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A former Harrogate man has been charged with a part in plundering nearly £180,000 from the accounts of a cash-strapped Leeds theatre.

Harrogate’s Peter Alp and his co-accused Dean Oates will appear in court later this week accused of defrauding Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House to the tune of £178,340.

It is claimed Mr Alp, 52, who was head of finance at the historic theatre and had responsibility for the finances of other council-related charities, conspired with Mr Oates to fabricate 54 invoices for services from a company called Bittern Entertainment that were never provided.

The alleged offences took place over a two-year period from 2011 to 2013.

Mr Alp, now giving his address as Minster Drive, Herne Bay, Kent, lived in St Clement’s Road in Harrogate at the time of his arrest.

He will appear, along with 45-year-old Mr Oates, of Lime Bar Lane, York, at Leeds Crown Court on October 24.

A 51-year-old woman from York, who was also arrested, remains on bail pending further enquiries.

The alleged fraud came to light after Leeds City Council (LCC) carried out an audit of the charity’s accounts.

A subsequent audit by Armstrong Watson accountants found computer password breaches had led to the suspected fraud payments being made.

A report to the theatre’s trustees by auditor William Booth said: “These breaches have happened because personal and confidential passwords appear to have been shared... There needs to be procedures in place to ensure this does not happen again.”

Mr Booth also criticised the trustees for failing to notify the Charity Commission of the suspected fraud until December last year – several months after evidence first came to light.

The theatre has struggled financially in recent years. In June the council had to step in with a £653,000 bail-out because of its ongoing deficit and losses resulting from the alleged fraud. LCC declined to say whether any members of staff had been suspended or what action it had taken while the legal case was ongoing.