Welcome to Yorkshire’s former staff break silence over ‘mental torture’ after Sir Gary Verity’s resignation

FORMER STAFF have spoken of the “mental torture” they suffered from Welcome to Yorkshire’s ex-chief executive Sir Gary Verity as the extent of the bullying culture he was responsible for at the tourism agency emerged.

Saturday, 30th March 2019, 7:07 am
Updated Saturday, 30th March 2019, 7:28 am
Sir Gary Verity resigned on health grounds from his job as Welcome to Yorkshire's chief executive in the wake of concerns over his expenses claims and behaviour towards staff.

Sir Gary resigned on health grounds from the organisation he oversaw for more than a decade in the wake of allegations over his behaviour towards employees as well as mounting concerns over his expenses claims.

Former members of staff have now come forward to give their accounts of what they describe as a “culture of bullying” which they endured during Sir Gary’s tenure.

The Yorkshire Post understands that Sir Gary had as many as 20 personal assistants during his 10-and-a-half year career at the Leeds-based company.

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Helen Long, a former PA of Sir Gary Verity at Welcome to Yorkshire, pictured at home near Halifax. Picture Tony Johnson.

Among them was Helen Long, who worked alongside Sir Gary for five months in 2017 before her contract was terminated just before her six-month probation period came to an end.

She revealed that she had to seek specialist help after her time at Welcome to Yorkshire, and was prescribed anti-depressants.

Before being employed at Welcome to Yorkshire, she had a 17-year career in the movie industry in Hollywood working alongside her ex-husband, who was a key grip on films including Legends of the Fall and Braveheart.

Mrs Long, who now lives with her husband, Robert, in Halifax, said: “It was five months of my life that I will never be able to forget, as I was berated by Sir Gary throughout the time I was there.

“I have worked in high-profile roles before, and I always pride myself on the fact that I have been able to get along with people.

“While I attempted to stand up to Sir Gary and questioned what he was doing, his behaviour just got worse.

“It was mental torture.

“When I left, I questioned whether it was my fault. I felt so demoralised, and it took me a while to regain my confidence.

“One of the worst things was I knew someone else was going to come in and have to deal with what I had been experiencing.

“I am older and more experienced and knew that I can do a job well, but for someone who is younger, this could well live with them for the rest of their careers.”

Mrs Long told The Yorkshire Post that her role as Sir Gary’s personal assistant would extend outside of office hours, as she would receive telephone calls from him often over the weekend and late at night.

The 52-year-old, who is now employed as a head of administration in the West Yorkshire offices of the global firm, Solenis, said: “On one occasion I was called just before midnight on a Sunday evening when he was in Paris waiting for a train and he was demanding to know which platform it was due to leave from.

“He could have asked any of the station staff or simply looked on the departures board, but I had to see if I could find which platform he was meant to be on in Paris while I was at home in Yorkshire.

“I do ask myself why I endured his behaviour for as long as I did. But at the time, it was my job, and I thought I should always remain professional as he was my boss.”

Another personal assistant, who asked not to be named, worked with Sir Gary for 12 months. She said: “I have thankfully never been in an abusive relationship, but it was so similar to that. You were always trying to please him, and were so happy that you had done five things right, but it was always the sixth thing that he picked you up on.”

Despite her experiences with Sir Gary, she spoke of the camaraderie between staff.

She said: “The team were – and still are – wonderful. Someone would always come and put an arm around you, and say that we were in this together.

“But three months before I left, I was talking to some colleagues and broke down in tears, I was inconsolable. That was when I knew that I couldn’t carry on there.”

One of Sir Gary’s longest-serving personal assistants also spoke of the demands of the job, and told how she had to break off from cooking a Sunday roast dinner for her family to book tickets for a London hotel at short notice.

She added: “I thought that was part of being his PA. This was my dream job – but I simply couldn’t continue to work with him.

“The highs were really high, but the lows were so low.”

Welcome to Yorkshire’s chairman, Ron McMillan, said an independent review will be conducted into Sir Gary’s resignation, announced on Friday last week after concerns over his expenses claims and behaviour towards staff, to “ensure lessons are learned”.

He added: “Should that review highlight any irregularities which require further investigation, we will make sure those investigations take place promptly and whatever steps need to be taken, are taken.”

Board members have confirmed that police are not being notified over Sir Gary’s expenses.

The Yorkshire Post revealed on Monday that concerns about his behaviour towards staff were first raised five years ago.

Sir Gary’s decision to resign with immediate effect was revealed on Friday last week in a shock announcement that confirmed he had left due to health grounds.

A Welcome to Yorkshire spokeswoman said the resignation followed concerns over Sir Gary’s behaviour towards employees and his expenses claims.

She also confirmed Leeds-born Sir Gary, 54, who received an annual salary of £243,000, agreed to “voluntarily reimburse” Welcome to Yorkshire for the amount owed, which is understood to be a five-figure sum.

Sir Gary, 54, issued an apology following his resignation, and asked for “time and space to heal” as he maintained that his health is now his “main priority”.

He was contacted in relation to the new allegations over his behaviour and expenses claims, but did not return a call from The Yorkshire Post.