> 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
It’s farewell to your centuries-old right to free speech today, after your Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs won their bid to get the Gagging Bill passed by the House of Lords. It won’t go back to the Commons because the Lords made no amendments.
While you, personally, will be allowed to continue complaining about anything you want, you will no longer have the ability to link up with others to protest government actions in any meaningful way as such action may breach Liberal Democrat and Tory government-imposed spending limits. Your personal complaints will be deemed unrepresentative of the people.
You will still be able to have your e-petition on the government’s website – if you win enough signatures to have it debated in Parliament – ignored by the Tories and Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons.
The Liberal Democrats and Tories have even managed to rub salt into the wound…
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