1979: The ‘Ingolstadt Incidents’ that sparked a major inquiry

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The corridors of the Town House have been home to many powerful figures over the generations – and more than a few major rammies.

The story of the ‘Ingolstadt Incidents’ must go down as one of the most painful for Labour as it wrestled with the fall-out from a foreign trip which went awry and dominated the front pages of the Press for six months.

1979 - the 'Ingolstadt Incidents'  made the front page of the Fife Free Press

1979 - the 'Ingolstadt Incidents' made the front page of the Fife Free Press

Maybe the whole venture was doomed from the start, only no-one read the signs.

The invitation to attend the Biennial Middle Bavarian Exhibition in Kirkcaldy’s twin town of Ingolstadt was as traditional, and dull, as they come.

For three months, however, the council argued over the cost and, more importantly, who should go.

The Ingoldstadt invite went to Councillor Robert King in his capacity as convenor of Kirkcaldy District Council.

Things kicked-off, and one meeting saw three councillors walk out as Labour tried to hold discussions in private to avoid more embarrassing headlines.

The ‘behind closed doors’ approach was to re-appear at various stages of the row.

Cllr King then found himself in the awkward position of having to use his own casting vote to confirm his seat on the plane, and the decision to take his Labour colleagues Charles Gardner and George Cation with him.

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Five officials were also earmarked to go – that number rose to six amid further complaints as a straightforward twin town invite spiralled out of control.

Illness kept Cllr Cation at home before the party departed on what the SNP described as “the saddest episode in the council’s history”.

KDC’s stand at the fair was hailed a tremendous success, and photos of the convener signing the visitors’ book duly adorned the front page of the Fife Free Press.

A glass was raised in a toast to all, and that’s where things unravelled.

One glass became two ...

The following month the Press reported an official investigation was under way into the “Ingolsdtadt Incidents”.

By the end of the month it had become “a top level inquiry” as rumours of unacceptable behaviour became the talk of the town.

The council did what all councils do in terms of crisis – it referred the matter to a six-strong sub-committee which was quickly dubbed the “Ingolstadt Six”.

The SNP wanted the details put on the table. Labour stonewalled every move to open that can of worms, and none of the front page reports ever explained what had actually happened.

Only in mid-May did a name hit the pages. Charles Gardner, a doyen of 20-years-plus as a councillor, was the man who over indulged in the hospitality.

The sub-committee noted his apology and effectively marked it ‘case closed’.

Well, actually, no ...

Only at the full council meeting did it emerge he had been banned from attending any civic functions or conferences until May 1980 but, if he thought that was the end of it, he was in for a shock.

In June, Cllr James Brodie (Ratepayers Party) rose to say “the Labour group funked it...” only to be told to sit down by Cllr King.

The SNP queried how the ban was meant to work in full knowledge Cllr Gardner had attended an arts and crafts function in Leven.

Cllr King also told them to sit down and be quiet, and threatened to have other dissenting voices removed from the Chamber.

There was one final twist to Cllr Gardner’s annus horribilis.

In August he turned up to crown Miss Burntisland, and endured boos and catcalls from the audience.

It was, in part, a protest about his part in the “Ingolstadt Incident” but it was also much more local.

Gardner chaired the leisure and recreation committee which had decided to close Burntisland open air swimming pool, sparking a huge community backlash.

His role in crowning Jackie Lees from Glasgow as Miss Burntisland was a step too far for the Save Our Pool campaigners.

A protest was organised by local butcher Tom Courts, who said: “We felt it was a slight on the people of Burntisland to have him crown the town’s beauty queen - nothing political about it. Feelings against Cllr Gardner are running high, so asking him along was asking for trouble.”