A chief fire officer accused of fraudulently buying one of his brigade’s Land Rovers for £500 said it would be “cleaner” to make the deal through a third-party and stop any “silly FOI stuff”, a court heard.
Birmingham Crown Court has heard an allegation Stewart Edgar also dishonestly turned down a rival £8,250 bid for the 17-year-old Defender vehicle, after telling a colleague he had always wanted a red Land Rover for his daughter’s wedding.
Prosecutors have claimed 53-year-old Edgar, the former head of Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, abused his post to commit the fraud in 2018.
In a text on April 2, 2018, to the contact at a firm who later placed the winning bid on his behalf, he said: “Hi John… I need a favour, I want to buy a Land Rover Defender for myself and have the vehicle, one of our end-of-fleet.
“But it would be cleaner if one of our companies that usually buys our end-of-the-road fleet buys it.
“Then I buy it off them.
“All above board, it just stops any silly FOI (Freedom of Information) stuff.
“Is this something you would consider?”
Asked by his barrister Alistair Webster QC what he meant by “silly FOI stuff”, Edgar replied: “I’m not proud of this, it’s just a throwaway statement… and sincerely apologise for using that terminology in the text.”
Explaining his use of the term “cleaner”, Edgar said: “I was trying to explain, just in simple terms, the arms-length transaction of the back-to-back arrangement.”
Edgar said of his decision to buy the Land Rover, that if he had been in “the right frame of mind” at the time, he “wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole”.
The Defender had started life as one of the brigade’s water rescue vehicles, before a spell on loan to trading standards, when Edgar became aware in March 2018 it was being sold as one of the brigade’s “end-of-life” vehicles, after reaching the end of its service.
He told the jury: “I had always hankered after maybe buying an ex-fire service vehicle for a restoration project and just thought this might be a good idea at the time.”
The former firefighter said he asked his fleet manager if it was “within the rules” for him to bid on the Land Rover.
Edgar said: “He responded ‘yes it is possible’ – and bear in mind he was my professional adviser.
“He said to me as long as you carry out an ‘arms-length transaction’, so a ‘back-to-back arrangement’, and at that stage, I said ‘is that within the rules’ and he said ‘yes’.”
He added: “I thought I was receiving good professional advice.”
Edgar told jurors he was currently on “a lot of medication” for mental health issues connected to his long service as a firefighter, adding he had seen “hundreds of dead bodies”.
He told how he started to suffer “flashbacks” within “18-to 24 months” of taking on the leading role at the Gloucestershire brigade, which he joined in 2014.
However, Edgar, who later resigned the post, also told jurors he felt “caught up in the middle” of a contest between the existing county council-run fire authority and the local police and crime commissioner, who was bidding to take over the service.
The takeover never happened, but in the event Edgar said he was then told to make “a further 5% of cuts” to the brigade leading to a feeling he was “public enemy number one”.
He said: “I just wished that I had sought medical help, and I might not be in the state that I am now.”
By 2017, he claimed he was suffering “insomnia” and other symptoms including “bouts of diarrhoea”, and not wanting to go out in public.
Edgar also alleged it put pressure on his family relationships, adding: “I wasn’t spending any good time with them… and just generally not being a good husband or father.”
However, the court heard in the days before the Land Rover sale, he had been away on holiday to New York with his wife and back to Scotland for his eldest daughter’s birthday.
Asked by his barrister if his state of mind meant “there were any judgments you were getting wrong”, Edgar replied: “Yes”.
Earlier, Edgar told the hearing he had “a very difficult upbringing” but made a successful career in the fire service, rising to the rank of chief fire officer in the now defunct Highlands and Islands fire service in Scotland, before the 2014 move to England.
In 2005, he was gold commander and fire service lead for the G8 summit at Gleneagles, which hosted then US president George W Bush and prime minister Tony Blair.
Edgar also said he was offered an OBE in 2018, but was never invited to take up the award at Buckingham Palace after events were overtaken by the investigations into the Land Rover’s sale.
Edgar, of Braehead Drive, Carnoustie, Angus, denies a single count of fraud by abuse of position alleged to have been committed between April 1 and May 1, 2018.