BY ANABEL INGE
A FORMER head teacher of a Catholic school in East London arrested last year in connection with the cash-forhonours inquiry has said that he contemplated suicide during his ordeal.
In a revealing interview with the News of the World last week, Des Smith, formerly the respected headmaster of All Saints Catholic School and previously a Downing Street adviser on schools, was quoted as saying that he was "totally hung out to dry by the Blair regime" and "I had to fight the urge to kill myself'.
Mr Smith, who was arrested in April last year, was the first to be arrested by Scotland Yard detectives investigating claims that Labour backers were being awarded peerages in exchange for loans to the party.
The former adviser to the Prime Minister's Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, which recruits sponsors for the Government's city academies, became a suspect after he allegedly told an undercover reporter that a donor who gave sufficient money to the project could expect to be recommended for honours by Mr Blair's office.
He described the remarks, made in a bar on the night of his 60th birthday in January last year, as "a boastful sales pitch" made while "out drinking".
He said: "Anyone who knew anything would know I had no influence over such matters."
Mr Smith was cleared by the Crown Prosecution Service earlier this month after it was decided that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him. And yet, he added, "that one sentence cost me my reputation, my career, my health, possibly my marriage and almost my life". He compared himself to Dr David Kelly, the scientist who killed himself in the midst of the controversy over the Government's "sexedup" dossier on Iraqi weapons, saying: "I now know the depths of despair Dr Kelly reached when he took his life."
He told the News of the World how he had felt abandoned by the party he had supported all his life and accused the Prime Minister of failing to support his adviser despite that fact that "Blair knew I couldn't possibly even have the know-how to offer a peerage in return for cash".
He said: "Instead he wheeled out John Reid to say: 'He's not a member of the Labour Party and he's not one of us.'
`The lesson I have learned is that everyone is dispensable to Tony Blair. He always prefers to distance himself from people if he smells trouble."
The former headmaster, once described by David Miliband as one of the most successful head teachers in the country, admitted that his ordeal had led him to turn to excessive drinking and to return to smoking after quitting 30 years earlier. Mr Smith, a father, also described the devastating effect on his marriage, saying: "I am not sure if we can save our marriage and that is desperately sad."
All Saints School was the product of a 1992 merger between a Catholic boys' school, of which Mr Smith had been headmaster since 1984, and a neighbouring Catholic girls' school.
According to Kevin Wilson, present head of All Saints School. Mr Smith "engineered and led the amalgamation" that resulted in a successful coeducational Catholic school that now ranks as one of the top 12 comprehensives in the country. Under his leadership, said Mr Wilson, the local deanery and primary schools became involved and the school "became the focal point of the Catholic community in East London".
Once a failing school, All Saints Catholic School and Technology College was named the country's second most improved school in England by 2003, with 89 per cent of pupils achieving at least a pass in five or more GCSEs.
Mr Wilson, who worked alongside Mr Smith as his deputy for 16 years, said: "He was a very successful headmaster, and a very popular one."
After the story about Mr Smith's remarks to an undercover reporter broke, the governors of the school allowed him to keep his post as head teacher until his planned retirement last summer.