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Fraud-accused fire chief wanted ‘nice red Land Rover for 500 quid’, court told

·4 min read

A chief fire officer “set out to subvert” his own brigade’s vehicle auction so he could win a “nice red Land Rover for 500 quid”, a jury heard.

Stewart Edgar is accused of fraudulently buying the Defender – being sold off after reaching the end of its service life – using a third-party company to put the bid in on his behalf, during a sale he was running.

Birmingham Crown Court has heard an allegation that Edgar also dishonestly turned down a rival £8,250 bid for the 2003-plate 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 £120,000-a-year post to commit the fraud in 2018.

However, his defence team has claimed he made “an honest mistake” and is “not a fraudster”.

Stewart Edgar court case
Stewart Edgar arrives at Birmingham Crown Court (Jacob King/PA)

Jurors have previously heard Edgar sent a text message in April 2018 to a contact at a third-party firm, which later placed the winning Land Rover bid on his behalf, saying the arrangement would be “cleaner” and stop any “silly FOI stuff”.

The ex-fire chief later told jurors he “didn’t think it was wrong” at the time to place a winning bid in an auction he was running.

In closing speeches on Thursday, Robin Shellard for the Crown, told jurors: “With power, comes responsibility.

“A responsibility to act honestly in your dealings with your employer and that’s fundamental to the charge you will have to consider.

“We say Mr Edgar… failed in that regard, not through any dereliction but because of his fundamental dishonesty in relation to this transaction.”

Edgar previously told jurors he is now on “a lot of medication” for mental health issues connected to his long service as a firefighter.

Having taken on the leading role at the Gloucestershire brigade in 2014, he said he was “not in the right frame of mind” for the job at the time the sale happened, and has since been diagnosed with depression.

Stewart Edgar
Edgar said he has been diagnosed with depression (Jacob King/PA)

Mr Shellard said: “What Mr Edgar did was corrupt the whole process, by that secret bid.”

The prosecutor claimed Edgar had “secretly engineered” matters to win the bid and asked the jury to consider “who benefits” from the auction.

“What’s in it for Mr Edgar?” he said. “Well, quite a lot actually; nice red Land Rover for 500 quid, for your daughter’s wedding.”

The Defender was in mint condition for its age with just 19,000 miles on the clock, having been used by the brigade’s water rescue team and latterly on loan to trading standards.

Edgar claimed he was advised by his fleet manager that the vehicle was only worth “between £500-£1,000”, which is how he arrived at his bid offer.

A spreadsheet created by the fleet manager, only disclosed to Edgar’s defence team on Wednesday evening, showed several other used brigade vehicle values were “in that sort of bracket or below”, according to Alistair Webster QC, defending.

However, the court previously heard evidence from a second potential Defender buyer whose £8,250 “cheeky bid” Edgar rejected, claiming it was received after deadline.

Stewart Edgar
Edgar denies a single count of fraud by abuse of position (Jacob King/PA)

Mr Shellard said it “didn’t take a rocket scientist to realise” Edgar’s bid was low.

“The prosecution say he knew he should not have been bidding for this vehicle, through a third party, given his position regardless of whether it was a bid of £500 or £5,000,” said Mr Shellard.

“He had, we say, a clear financial responsibility towards this tender… and he set out to subvert it.

“The only bid he was accepting was his own bid and the excuse that the other bid was late so he had to reject it is just that – an excuse.

“We say, looking at evidence in this case, Mr Edgar is guilty of the charge.”

In his closing speech, Mr Webster said: “Stuart Edgar is a man who has given much to this country – he’s entitled to fair and open-minded consideration of this case and to say this.

“Look at me, I’m basically an honest hard-working, committed, driven man, who made – three-and-a-half years ago – an honest mistake when I wasn’t well and under huge pressure.

“I’m not a fraudster – enough is enough.”

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.

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