Strain told on council chief

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SIR JEREMY Beecham, a leading Labour figure in local government at the time of the abuse scandal, was found collapsed in his car with a suspected overdose a week before Christopher Lillie went on trial to face abuse charges in 1994.

Sir Jeremy was both leader of Newcastle City Council, which was responsible for running the nursery, and a partner in the legal firm representing Lillie, a fact the parents of the abused children were unhappy about.

He still is a partner in Henderson, Beecham & Peacock, a major Newcastle solicitors' practice and at the time was also chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.

According to reports, an overdose was suspected as an empty tablet bottle was found in the Renault. Passing motorists had raised the alarm and Sir Jeremy was rushed to hospital.

Claire Routledge, lawyer to a group of the parents, said she wrote complaining about a possible conflict of interest. Sir Jeremy says he declared this interest "promptly" with the council.

A spokesman for Sir Jeremy said that the case had been handled by a colleague.

After his collapse in July 1994, Sir Jeremy was in hospital for three weeks, suffering from depression. In November that year, he resigned as council leader. "It has brought it home what I had always intellectually realised, that there was tremendous pressures in local government, and it is very difficult to do a number of jobs at the same time and I had three," he said at the time.

Sir Jeremy had been leader of Newcastle City Council for 17 years, having joined the Labour Party in 1959, at the tender age of 15. In 1967, he became councillor for Benwell, a deprived area on the north bank of the river Tyne.

In a statement issued yesterday Sir Jeremy expressed "profound sympathy" for the abused children and their families.

He repeated he had "no connection with these appalling events. People in public life are particularly vulnerable to allegations made without any foundation in fact, as the inquiry team acknowledges."