`Voice of Swimming' sacked over bribes

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HAMILTON Bland, the so-called "Voice of Swimming", was sacked by both the BBC and the Amateur Swimming Association yesterday after an inquiry found that he had taken bribes from pool manufacturers.

Mr Bland, the ASA's facilities consultant, brought the sport into disrepute by taking "secret commissions" from manufacturers while giving advice to councils about new pools, according to an independent inquiry carried out by solicitors' firm, Herbert Smith.

David Sparkes, the ASA's chief executive, said yesterday that the findings of the report would be handed over to the police.

He said: "As ASA facilities consultant, Hamilton Bland was in a position of trust and influence, a position which he has clearly abused. Mr Bland has betrayed the trust that both we and our partners put in him. We had no alternative but to relieve him of all duties with the ASA.

"There is no doubt that as a direct result of Mr Bland's activities the ASA's reputation has suffered, particularly with local authorities and the Sports Council. Clearly there are some bridges to be built and we are working towards restoring confidence in the ASA."

The report was ordered by the ASA last July after investigations by World in Action and a national newspaper showed that the former Olympic coach had made a fortune from the sport.

The BBC, which has used Mr Bland as a commentator since 1975, said in a statement yesterday that it would be "inappropriate" to continue to employ him.

Mr Bland, who lives in a mansion in Warwickshire, reached an agreement with Han Mooyer, the owner of a company called Poly Pool Floors Limited (PPF) specialising in moveable floors for swimming pools, according to the inquiry.

In a statement issued through his solicitors yesterday, Mr Bland said: "I absolutely deny that I have brought the ASA or myself into disrepute."

The inquiry, which details his involvement with numerous swimming pools, is most critical of his role during a project at the Queen Mother Leisure Centre in Westminster, London.

It says: "Mr Bland's behaviour in this case was improper, and indeed the impression remains that money was extorted from Mr Mooyer."

Referring to another project, the report says: "As regards the West Hill Swimming Pool, I consider that Mr Bland breached his duties as a consultant to Gordon District Council. He used his position as consultant, a position he obtained through his role as ASA facilities consultant, to extract a secret commission from Mr Mooyer, Mr Bland also gave partial or one- sided advice to the council."

It concludes: "There is no difference in law between a secret commission and a bribe. The evidence is incontrovertible, therefore, that Mr Bland took a number of bribes from Mr Mooyer in exchange for promoting or recommending PPF's floors."

A copy of the report has also been sent to Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who has already said that he would pass the report to the police if it contained evidence of illegal behaviour.

Mr Bland gave evidence to the inquiry in February after he suffered a brain haemorrhage at the end of last year. The inquiry, carried out by Mark Gay, cleared Mr Bland of any wrongdoing in his roles as promoter of the ASA awards, and as head of his company SwimGB.

Defending the ASA's contract with Mr Bland, Mr Sparkes said: "The deal was quite clear. The Association has done very well from Mr Bland."