Disgraced former Glasgow council leader Stephen Purcell admits cocaine use and fear of blackmail plot

One of Labour's brightest stars in Scotland reveals alcohol abuse and thoughts of suicide

The disgraced former leader of Glasgow council has admitted using cocaine and said fear of a blackmail plot helped push him into an emotional breakdown, thoughts of suicide and alcohol abuse.

Stephen Purcell, seen as one of Labour's brightest political stars and a future leader for the Scottish parliament, shocked Glasgow and his party by resigning suddenly as council leader earlier this month.

An admitted workaholic who oversaw substantial internal reforms at the council, Purcell checked himself briefly into a rehabilitation clinic, citing stress and exhaustion, before resigning as a Labour councillor as well.

His departure sparked a surge of allegations about his links to wealthy party backers and their lucrative civic contracts, and claims of a cover-up of his drugs misuse, seriously undermining Labour's pre-general election planning and its attempts to retake the Glasgow East Westminster seat from the Scottish National party.

As the SNP confirmed it will demand a formal inquiry by Glasgow council later this week, Gordon Brown publicly praised Purcell in an attempt to kill off the controversy.

The prime minister told the Herald that Purcell's resignation was "a personal sadness, a tragedy" and urged voters to focus on the city's future and its successful regeneration.

In an interview with the Sun, Purcell, 37, admitted using cocaine "no more than half a dozen times" after being given it at a party. He confirmed that two detectives from the Scottish serious crime and drug enforcement agency visited him privately to warn him he was at risk of blackmail after a video of him taking the drug came to light.

Purcell said this revelation added to his sense of loneliness and pressure, and his increasing dependency on alcohol. He often drank alone. That added to his deep depressions. "My head was literally bursting with the pressure," he said.

"For the past 12 months I have had increasing feelings of loneliness. These were particularly heightened if I had too much time on my hands, such as during holidays, Christmas and new year."

By late February, he was unable to "shake it off". That weekend, his depression was so intense he considered suicide and decided to resign, checking himself into a clinic in Peeblesshire and volunteering to take depression and alcohol-substitute medication.

After his resignation on Tuesday 2 March, Purcell went to Australia and then to Ireland to escape a significant controversy that erupted in Glasgow over his private life, the council's own handling of the affair and Labour's links to powerful businessmen in the city.

"The problem was inside my head," he said. "I had utterly convinced myself I had a drink problem and that I could not cope with the embarrassment of it coming out that I had used cocaine. I was letting down my family, my constituents; [the] personal guilt was immense. I told my family about my drinking. [I] was basically having an emotional breakdown."

Purcell denied showing any favouritism to Labour funders in awarding council contracts, with particular reference to Willie Haughey, an influential businessman and council contractor. "I make absolutely no apology for our reputation as an administration that is business friendly," he said. "I have never once seen a hint of corruption. Regulations are tougher than people think. Everything is audited and legalled."

The SNP group leader in Glasgow, James Dornan, and the MP for Glasgow East, John Mason, said Purcell's disclosures that he told council colleagues of his cocaine use had to be investigated. Dornan will table a council motion calling for an inquiry later this week.

Strathclyde police and the Scottish public spending authority Audit Scotland last week rejected SNP demands for an inquiry into Purcell's conduct and council contracts, but Mason insisted the police think again.

"This interview confirms not simply that he used cocaine but had a very real fear that gangsters had a video of him and could blackmail him," Mason said. "This goes beyond the individual and brings in questions of propriety in the council that are of genuine concern to my constituents.

"Continuing concerns in the newspapers over council contracts, connections to city businessmen and now gangsters are legitimate points that should be investigated."

Dornan added: "Councillor Purcell's resignation has simply exposed the cracks in Labour's façade. "The questions facing the Labour administration go well beyond Steven Purcell's personal situation."

Contributor

Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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