Archant Norfolk's circulation director has been sacked for gross misconduct after the company said he had falsified some ABC circulation figures.
In an email sent to staff this afternoon seen by Press Gazette, chief executive Adrian Jeakings said Don Williamson's activity began in the second half of last year – when Archant's Norwich Evening News and Eastern Daily Press were two of only four regional dailies in the UK to report year-on-year circulation increases.
Williamson was due to retire at the end of August and after his leaving party three weeks ago he went on holiday, returning to the company earlier this week.
'When he was away we found that some numbers in the draft ABC return for the first half of 2012 might be wrong,'Jeakings explained to staff.
'An investigation was carried out and it became clear that Don had falsified some copy sales. These were corrected before final ABC numbers were submitted, so the numbers to be reported next week will be clean.
'We can't yet say what the numbers will be, but we do not expect circulations to be out of line with others in our industry."
After Williamson returned he was called in to explain the position.
'The outcome of this is that the company had no choice but to dismiss him for gross misconduct,'said Jeakings.
'He has not benefitted financially from his actions. The only titles where sales have been overstated are in Norfolk.
'We believe that this activity started in the second half of last year and we are working with ABC to review some bulk copies recorded in our ABC returns for the second half of 2011. These will be reported on in due course."
He added: 'This does not change our strategy on circulation. We will continue to aim to maintain and grow circulation by all legitimate means possible."
The last set of ABC figures for Archant, covering the last six months of 2011, showed that the Norwich Evening News was the best performing title, up 7.5 per cent to 18,931 (including 3,134 bulk copies), followed by the Eastern Daily Press, which was up 0.7 per cent to 59,802 (inc 5,869 bulks).
An Archant spokesperson said:'We can confirm that a senior circulation manager has been dismissed following an internal investigation. We are working with ABC in reviewing the reporting of certain bulk copies in the second half of 2011."
When Willamson's retirement was announced, Archant Anglia managing director Johnny Hustler said: 'Don's skills are un-paralleled in our industry and we will miss him hugely."