Former fire chief to face 10-day jury trial
By Court reporter | 9th April 2020
The trial of the former Gloucestershire fire chief accused of fraudulently selling himself a brigade Land Rover at a knockdown price may have to be moved to another part of the country because of local publicity about his case, a judge was told today.
At Gloucester Crown Court Stewart Edgar, 52, appeared via Skype link from his home in Carnoustie, Scotland, to plead not guilty to the allegation he abused his position by selling the 2003 Land Rover for £500 when it was worth more than £8,000.
Judge Michael Cullum adjourned the case pending a 10-day trial starting at Gloucester on November 10.
But he was told by Mr Edgar's barrister the defence want the trial to be heard away from Gloucester - perhaps in Bristol or Birmingham - because of the extent of publicity in Gloucestershire.
The judge asked the defence to submit written reasons for moving the trial and said if it was to go 'off circuit' to Birmingham there would have to be consent from the presiding judges of both the Western and Midlands Circuits.
Edgar, of Braehead Drive, Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland, wearing a blue shirt with dark jacket and tie, pleaded not guilty to the single charge that between April 1 and May 1 2018, he dishonestly abused his position by arranging for a company called Emergency One to submit an offer of £500 for the Land Rover Defender reg number VU03 YEY without informing the brigade that the offer had been submitted on his behalf.
The charge goes on to allege the £500 offer was accepted and a higher offer of £8,250 from Terberg DTS (UK) Ltd was rejected.
Edgar, who was being paid a salary of £147,000 a year chief at the time of his resignation in June 2018, spoke during the hearing only to confirm his name and his date of birth, October 29, 1967, and to say he could hear the proceedings clearly.
During the hearing he lost sound on his computer and had to have the rest of the proceedings relayed to him by phone from his solicitor.
He was represented at the hearing by Birmingham-based barrister William Douglas-Jones, who said he will not be the lawyer who actually deals with the case at the trial. The barrister who will defend him has not yet been allocated, he added.
Prosecutor Robin Shellard said he expected the trial would last a full 10 days because there were at least 10 Crown witnesses required by the defence to give evidence to the jury. There may also be defence witnesses in addition to Mr Edgar himself, he said.
He said: "I know quite a large number of statements will also need to be read. I think it will take two weeks. The Crown's case is dependent on a number of different stages in the tendering process (for the sale of the Land Rover).
"There is a fair bit to be explored before the jury. "
Mr Douglas-Jones said it was felt the trial should be held outside Gloucester 'primarily due to the local press coverage that has naturally ensued from this matter.'
"The prosecution would prefer it to move to Bristol," he said. "We would say perhaps it should be Birmingham for fear of the local press coverage extending still further from the Gloucester area towards Bristol.
"I have done some research and coverage has reached as far as Stroud which is, of course, moving towards the Bristol area."
He asked for time to look into the extent of the publicity and submit a written argument for the moving of the trial.
Judge Cullum said "Gloucester is virtually equidistant between Bristol and Birmingham but it is much more complicated to move a case off circuit. I don't know if there has been much reporting in Bristol or whether the reporting is anything other than what there would be ordinarily in a noteworthy case going through the magistrates and then the crown court.
"The mere fact of local reporting would not mean that the venue has to be changed. I don't think it is a given that there should be a change of venue."
Mr Shellard said he did not oppose a change of venue and he knew that there had been 'a degree of press coverage in the Gloucester area concerning Mr Edgar and these events.'
"I understand it was quite a well known incident," he said.
Mr Douglas-Jones pointed out to the judge that the publicity surrounding the case had been wider than for a normal case and went beyond just details of the specific charge against Mr Edgar.
Judge Cullum suggested the case could be moved further afield within the Western Circuit - to Exeter or even Plymouth - rather than out of circuit. Newport and Cardiff were also suggested as possibilities by the advocates.
Judge Cullum gave the defence until April 30 to submit reasons for a change of trial venue. He said the prosecution had to respond to that by May 14 and the court would sit on May 21 administratively to give a decision on the application and to state where and when the trial would be held if not in Gloucester.
He bailed Mr Edgar pending a further plea and case management hearing on September 25, followed by trial in November.
Edgar, formerly a senior fire officer in his native Scotland before he moved to Gloucestershire, received the OBE in early 2018 in recognition of 27 years of public service. He received the Queen's Fire Service Medal at Buckingham Palace in 2013.
He and his wife Fiona have two daughters, Corah 27, and Lana, 24.
Before his appointment as Gloucestershire fire chief in 2014, Edgar was working as chief of the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service in Scotland having begun his career in Tayside in 1993.
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