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Too much hospitality: Four jailed in Scottish construction works bribery case (Updated)

Two former employees of the Edinburgh City Council and two directors of a construction company received significant jail sentences for bribery contrary to The Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act 1889 (the legislation that pre-dates the Bribery Act 2010).

The council employees helped award contracts to Edinburgh Action Building Contracts Ltd (ABC Ltd). In return they received extensive hospitality including corporate seats at football grounds, meals out, and visits to lap dancing bars as well as cash. Invoices were then inflated to cover the cost of the hospitality.

The charges related to the maintenance of council buildings from 2006 to 2010.

Council worker Charles Owenson was sentenced to four years and four months for accepting bribes. The sentencing Sheriff (the judge) considered that, despite Owenson’s guilty plea, he hadn’t accepted that what he did was wrong and had shown no remorse for his actions.

Council worker James Costello was sentenced to three years and nine months. The Sheriff stressed that he had been a public servant who misused his office for personal gain.

Construction company director Kevin Balmer was sentenced to two years and ten months and disqualified from being a director for five years.

Construction company director Brendan Cantwell was sentenced to two years and three months and disqualified from being a director for five years.

The public officials received longer sentences because they were in a position of public trust. The Sheriff described the construction company directors as motivated by greed and arrogance. The Sheriff said deterrence of others was a key aim of the sentences passed.

The bribery scheme was uncovered in 2011 after a whistleblower raised concerns.

Corporate hospitality is not illegal in itself. But the 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.


Tom Stocker is a Partner at Pinsent Masons LLP. He specialises in white collar crime and anti-bribery compliance. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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