> Another episode from not-to-distant history…
He called Newcastle “the Athens of the North East,” and in the end his life formed its own Greek tragedy.
Thomas Dan Smith could have given his name to a brave new era in local government but instead he lived out his days as a byword for council corruption.
Anyone picking up a copy of the Evening Chronicle on April 26, 1974, will have been able to see for themselves that the downfall of T Dan Smith was complete.
The former leader of Newcastle Council was handed a six-year sentence, of which he served three years, for his role in the Poulson affair. The corruption scandal had seen the architect pay out for lucrative council building contracts, with everyone but the taxpayer taking their cut.
In page after page of court copy, the city found out how the man who changed the face of Newcastle had been pocketing cash and passing on bribes.
Smith had led the council in the mid-60s at a time when Newcastle was going through much-needed dramatic changes. Slums were demolished, and plans for a city in the sky grew up alongside tower block housing projects and a concrete jungle along John Dobson Street. He cleared the way for the new Eldon Square and helped ensure Newcastle had at least one university in its centre.
At the same time Smith was an increasingly important part of the Poulson empire, working to advise the firm while at the same time ordering major contracts, before stepping down from the council in 1964 to act as consultant and PR man. Armed with a list of contacts, Smith worked his way around town hall offices across the country, doing what he did best and making sure major civic contracts went Poulson’s way.
As Smith’s trial and readers of the Chronicle heard, Smith “set out to make a fortune by attempted corruption of local government officials.”
He recruited what readers were told was a “fifth column of corrupt councillors to work for John Poulson.”
Those payments included cash payouts to Andy Cunningham, the former Durham County Council chairman who was jailed alongside Smith for his part in accepting corrupt payments.
There were further payments to councillors elsewhere across England, but Smith seemed to think he was just part of the system.
The former leader told Leeds Crown Court, where he pleaded guilty, that: “I was corrupt because I condoned things on many occasions. I think I would accept that I was the corrupter, although I was as much corrupted as I corrupted others.”
Poulson received some £800,000 for the firm’s works in the North East, including fees for designing a new police station in Sunderland for Durham Police Authority.
But Smith lined his own pocket as well, with his PR firm typically taking around 1% of the major fees paid to Poulson from the likes of Smith’s own Newcastle.
At the time of his trial it was alleged Smith had taken some £156,000 from Poulson, though his bank accounts showed him to be broke by the time he came to court. Where the money went was never explained, though some point to European trips and the potential for secretive offshore accounts as a starting point.
The corruption would never have come to light if Poulson had not gone bankrupt, meaning his meticulously maintained accounts were open to investigators who had had their suspicions for years.
Smith spent three years behind bars, and eventually ended up living in a Cruddas Park high rise, the type of which would never have come to Newcastle if not for him.
The Smith legacy is everywhere to see in Newcastle, a former council leader says, and the city would be wrong to forget the positives Smith brought to tyneside.
Labour peer Lord Beecham said Smith was “enormously influential,” even if there were allegations around the man from long before his eventual trial.
“When he was brought down, you knew it was a huge story, because of who he was. Some people still had admiration for him, based on what he had done, but for a while it tarnished the entire city.
“He was seen as a dynamic visionary leader at one point. But he was a classic Greek tragedy, he put pride before a fall.”
> He was a crook. He got caught out and paid the price.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 09 June 2014
A huge restructure of Northumbria Police will see more than 400 jobs go and police stations closed as part of ongoing measures to save a total of £104m in response to “relentless” Government funding cuts.
The force will lose 230 members of staff – some by voluntary or compulsory redundancy – and reduce its number of senior officers by 200, through ‘natural turnover’.
They will also close “expensive” police stations, and reduce the number of area commands from six to three.
The restructure plans were announced last night as it was revealed that Northumbria Police has to save an additional £46m by March 2017, having already delivered £58m of savings since the start of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010.
Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird, branded the cuts “unfair” but promised to protect frontline services working in neighbourhoods throughout the region.
> What does that mean ? We still wont see the coppers we already never see, unless speeding past in a car ?
She said: “The Government cuts are relentless and unfair. They impact far more heavily on our police service than on many others. The Chief Constable and I are very committed to maintaining the number of police officers and staff working in our neighbourhoods.
“To achieve this we need to do things differently, use technology more effectively and work from different buildings that are cheaper to run.”
The proposals, which the force stress are in the early stages, will see some “outdated” police stations closed and Neighbourhood Policing Teams relocated to bases within the communities they serve in shared accommodation facilities such as leisure centres.
> A plastic plod in the front of a supermarket, strictly 9-5, and able only to refer you to the police’s website, no doubt
However, a spokeswoman for Northumbria said that no police buildings will close until suitable new locations have been found.
Mrs Baird added: “We will relocate Neighbourhood Policing Teams to bases in the local community, usually shared with other services. We are currently doing this in North Tyneside where we are proposing to have police in the White Swan Centre at Killingworth following public consultation, rather than in an outdated, expensive-to-maintain police station in Forest Hall.
“We are keen to make further savings by relocating other neighbourhood policing teams into the communities that they serve, as this is what local policing is all about. However, we guarantee no police services will be relocated until we have found accessible bases within the community for neighbourhood teams to work from and they are working well.
“I am conscious that local people are feeling the effects of the economic downturn very acutely in our region. We have managed to protect frontline numbers and deliver the savings needed without the public having to pay more.”
> You’d never guess she used to be an MP, would you ?
Another change in the way Northumbria Police operate will be the down-sizing of the current six area commands – Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Northumberland and Sunderland – to three.
These will cover existing local authority areas coming under North, Central and South. North will cover North Tyneside and Northumberland, Central will serve Newcastle and Gateshead and South will cover Sunderland and South Tyneside.
> With the possible closure of Sunderland’s city centre Gilbridge police station being mooted – to go with the probable closure of the city centre fire station. How long before someone decides the city doesn’t really need a hospital either ?
The force has said it has made every effort to safeguard the services the public say they value most, which is visible policing in their communities.
> Invisible policing, more like ! Otherwise only seen when there’s a football match on.
The proposed changes, which won’t see any increase in council tax, will not reduce the service to the public nor impact on the force’s ability to reduce crime and disorder, according to Northumbria Police.
> Truth is, the region is never going to be a potential Tory electoral gain (Hexham aside), so why should anyone in government really care what happens here ?
On the other hand, it’s safe Labour seats, so they don’t appear to feel the need to stand up for us either – they take it for granted that they’ll get voted back whatever happens.
Talk about being between a rock and a hard place !
Perhaps, should Scotland go independant, they might consider extending the border down to the Tees…
Source – Newcastle Journal, Sunderland Echo, 09 Jan 2014