Martin Hannan: Council duo brought down by greed

James Costello, left, and Charles Owenson. Picture: Julie Bull
James Costello, left, and Charles Owenson. Picture: Julie Bull
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It WAS the SUVs and the glitzy Mercs and Audis that did for them. If Charles Owenson and James Costello and their colleagues had only bought Skodas or even Ford Fiestas then they might well have got away with their heinous crimes.

As it was, the two corrupt officials of Edinburgh Council were nabbed because a former employee of the council told a councillor about the amazingly expensive cars that the two men had bought – cars that were right out of Top Gear and cost a lot more than they could afford on their salaries.

Fortunately for us all, that councillor was Stefan Tymkewicz. Way back in 2010, Stef took the ex-employee’s claims seriously and he and others with concerns about the soaring costs of repairs contracts began to look into what was going on in the city development department as it then was. As an SNP member, I’ve got to know Stef over the years and all I will say is that if he gets a bee in his bonnet, then God help the bee. He worried away at the whole issue of Edinburgh’s unique statutory repairs notice system, and rightly concluded that the whole shebang was like something out of a nightmare, and the people of Edinburgh were paying too high a price for repairs because the prices were being inflated to pay bribes to officials – as the procurator fiscal told the Sheriff Court last week.

Stef has never really been given the credit for what he did. He has been nothing short of heroic in his efforts.

Now Owenson and Costello face a lengthy jail sentence. Sheriff Michael O’Grady QC will be able to sentence them to five years, but frankly I think he should pass these two up to the High Court where a judge could double that sentence and more.

As for the men who bribed them, who paid for lapdancers and drinks and football match tickets, and passed brown envelopes, both Kevin Balmer and Brendan Cantwell should also go to jail, not just because they are corrupt, but because they stole money from the people of Edinburgh.

Some of it may be returned as both face proceeds of crime cases later this year. Hopefully, any money seized will be given back to the council, perhaps for use in providing materials for children’s playgrounds or something similar.

I have to tell you that there is a fair amount of incredulity within the council that so far only two employees from the old Property Care section have been convicted. Many more staff members lost their jobs, and at least two went through the appeal process and still got the sack, but there is still a feeling of disquiet among some councillors that things should not rest here.

There is considerable disquiet that while the Property Care Services section was cleaned out, there still has not been any proper criminal investigation into the Property Conservation section as was – the police did have a look but said they found no evidence of criminality. Mmmm . . so why do certain reports, including the Deloitte ‘Solar’ investigation that was published over two years ago, strongly suggest malpractice at the least, and sheer fraud at the worst?

Make no mistake, the jailing of Owenson and Costello is not the end of this business.