Gloucestershire fire chief 'gave support in return for hospitality'

Stewart Edgar Image copyright Gloucestershire County Council
Image caption Stewart Edgar resigned from Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service last year

A fire chief undercharged Cheltenham racecourse for giving fire support in return for its festival hospitality, it has been alleged.

A BBC Freedom of Information request revealed Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service charged varying amounts while Stewart Edgar was chief officer.

Gloucestershire Constabulary said there was currently "no evidence of criminality" around the allegations.

Mr Edgar and the racecourse have both denied any wrongdoing.

Whistleblowers told the BBC Mr Edgar, who resigned last year, negotiated a cheaper rate for providing the service in return for the use of a hospitality box.

On one occasion, during the annual National Hunt festival, the racecourse was not charged anything to provide support.

'Never sufficient'

The council, which oversees the fire service, said it was a statutory duty for the fire service to work with race organisers "to reduce suffering or harm to animals and riders".

During the annual festival the service would typically provide eight staff on each of the four days, each covering a 10-hour shift, it added.

Figures obtained showed Cheltenham Racecourse was charged vastly different amounts for providing support during the festival when Mr Edgar was in charge.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The annual Cheltenham Festival is attended by thousands of racegoers and is a highlight of the horse racing calendar

In March 2015, it paid £10,950, in 2016 it paid £5,460, in 2017 it was not charged and in 2018 it paid £4,550.

The council said on each of these occasions the amount charged was "never sufficient to cover the cost of the crews attending".

Following Mr Edgar's departure, this year the race course was charged £14,960.

Mr Edgar said in a statement he denied any wrongdoing and he "does not accept acting improperly at any time".

The racecourse said it had "not provided any contra hospitality in exchange for services from Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue or any individual associated with the service".

A spokesman added: "Any non-payment for services in 2017 will be because we have yet to be invoiced for payment."

A spokesman for Gloucestershire Constabulary said: "Yesterday we received further documentation from the county council in relation to their audits of the fire and rescue service.

"This has now been assessed and currently what we have received does not constitute evidence of criminality.

"We will continue to review information as it is submitted."

Gloucestershire County Council, which oversees the fire service, said its internal audit team will look investigate.

Last week other allegations concerning Mr Edgar's conduct while chief fire officer were highlighted in an internal audit.

Mr Edgar resigned last year over the sale of a Land Rover, which he undersold then later bought for himself. A police investigation into that incident is continuing.

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