Four jailed for bribery in Edinburgh council repairs scam

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Four men have been jailed for bribery in Edinburgh council repairs maintenance contacts  the corrupt council officials and contractors in the Edinburgh , and slammed by the sheriff as “an unholy alliance” combined total of over 13 years.


The  £42,000 corruption involved the payment of bribes and the provision of hospitality inducements worth over £30,000, in court the Sheriff Michael O’Grady called the four men “kindred corrupt spirits” during this morning’s sentencing.


Charles Owenson who does not work for the council anymore was given four years and four months, while his associate James Costello was given three years and nine months the other two men who were directors of Action Building Contracts Ltd (ABC Ltd) Kevin Balmer and Brendan Cantwell were given two years and ten months, and two years and three months respectively.

All four pleaded guilty last month following an investigation into Edinburgh City Council’s allocation of building work contracts to private building firms.The builders bribed the council officials with  hospitality and cash payments in exchange for being allocated maintenance and repair contracts  and they also included “hospitality” to the officials. This  “hospitality” encompassed corporate seats at football matches and nights out at bars and lap dancing clubs knowing that they would win the contracts.

In addition, further charges of fraud and money laundering were libelled against Costello and Owenson, which they were also sentenced for today.

Owenson, of Drum Brae Neuk, and Costello, of Crosswood Crescent, Balerno, were treated to £30,000 of hospitality – including football matches and drinks in lap-dancing bars – as valuable council repair contracts were secured through bribery.

They also splashed the cash on expensive cars including an Audi and a Mercedes.

Balmer and Cantwell, from Tantallon Gardens and Bankton Gardens respectively, in Livingston, exchanged the rewards for repair work on council-owned buildings such as schools, care homes and libraries.

Sheriff O’Grady heard that the syndicate also inflated invoices by £67,000 for completed repairs which is a shocking waste of public money

Sheriff O’Grady commented: “It may not have been a work of criminal genius, but it was far from spontaneous or makeshift.It is the kind of deceit which eats away at public confidence in public administration in the most damaging way.”

Detective Inspector Arron Clinkscales commented : “These men knowingly misused public funds to establish building work contracts that ultimately benefited themselves, rather than go through the appropriate and legal channels.

“Police Scotland carried out a robust investigation into this complex enquiry, resulting in Owenson, Costello, Cantwell and Balmer being identified and subsequently charged with a variety of corruption offences.

“The sentences they have been handed today reflects our commitment to working alongside our relevant partners to tackle all forms of fraudulent and corrupt activity, wherever it may arise.”

Tom Stocker, a Partner at Pinsent Masons in Edinburgh, said: “These are tough sentences. The public officials received longer sentences because they were in a position of public trust.


“The deterrence of others is a key aim of the sentences passed. It is important to remember that corporate hospitality is not illegal in itself.

“But, this case shows why companies need to have controls around hospitality. It can easily get out of hand.

“Companies dealing with the public sector need to be particularly careful.”