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Directors and former council officials jailed in bribery case

Two directors of a Scottish construction firm have been jailed for bribing council officers with football tickets and trips to lap dancing clubs in return for building maintenance contracts.

Two former Edinburgh City Council officers were also handed prison sentences for bribery after admitting they had accepted cash and hospitality from Edinburgh Action Building Contracts between 2006 and 2010.

Gifts to the officers, which were covered up by the firm through inflated invoices, included corporate seats at Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian football grounds, meals out, visits to lap dancing bars and cash payments.

Contracts to maintain council buildings were awarded to the firm in return for the hospitality.

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

Company director Kevin Balmer was sentenced to two years and 10 months in prison and fellow director Brendan Cantwell to two years and three months. Both were also disqualified for five years from serving as directors.

Former council officer Charles Owenson received a sentence of four years and four months, while his colleague James Costello was given a term of three years and nine months.

Council chief executive Sue Bruce said: “We expect the highest standards from our staff and where allegations are made concerning mismanagement or fraud we will investigate and take the strongest possible action.

“The management arrangements for this service have been reviewed and substantial changes have been implemented. It is important that the public have the utmost faith in the services we provide.”

Tom Stocker, a solicitor and director of online compliance provider Cerico, 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, but it is important to remember that corporate hospitality is not illegal in itself.

“This case shows why companies need to have controls around hospitality, as it can easily get out of hand. Companies dealing with the public sector need to be particularly careful.”