I have sinned, says ex-bank chief

The Oxford Times: Paul Flowers was exposed for alleged drug use Paul Flowers was exposed for alleged drug use

A former Co-op Bank boss arrested over drug allegations has told how he did not think he was qualified to run a bank and admitted he has "sinned".

Paul Flowers also accused the Government of putting him under "considerable" pressure to try to push through the ill-fated deal for the bank to take over around 600 Lloyds branches.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the scandal broke, the ex-Methodist minister, who was bailed in connection with alleged drugs supply offences in January, revealed how a spell in rehab for addiction therapy had been "cathartic and traumatic".

He told BBC 2's Newsnight: " I am in company with every other human being for having my frailties and some of my fragilities exposed. Most people get through their life without that ever coming into the public domain. I am no worse and no better it seems to be than any number of other people. But, of course, I have sinned in that old fashioned term, which I would rarely use, but I am like everybody else, I am frail."

During an appearance before the Commons Treasury committee last year Mr Flowers stumbled over basic facts and figures relating to the ailing bank.

Allegations later emerged claiming that he had used drugs, including crystal meth, crack cocaine and ketamine.

Asked what made him think he was qualified to run a bank, he replied: " I didn't, and it wasn't my job to make a judgment about whether I was qualified. Others made a judgment that I was the right and appropriate person to be the chair at that particular time. And it went through a very rigorous process of selection."

Mr Flowers refused to be drawn on the allegations about the use of drugs and rent boys, saying some issues were still subject to the police investigation.

Pressed on whether he did drugs before he became chairman of the bank, he replied: "No. But that doesn't answer the earlier question. And I cannot answer it for the moment."

When it was suggested that his reply "does tell us something?" he replied: " Yes".

Mr Flowers claimed former Treasury minister Mark Hoban, and indirectly Chancellor George Osborne, had made it clear they were keen to push through a deal for the bank to take over around 600 branches Lloyds bank.

Asked how much pressure he had come under, Mr Flowers told last night's Newsnight: "Considerable from the present government, mainly from Conservatives.

"They wanted a deal. Remember that the Government was, still is, the major shareholder of that bank because of the structural support that it had need of back in 2008.

"Clearly they wanted a deal which would help them in terms of public finances.

"They actually said that they were keen on this Coop becoming a much more significant player with more scale.

"We would have had about seven or eight per cent of the market if this had gone through and there was pressure, certainly from Mark Hoban, but I believe and know that that originated much higher up with the Chancellor himself.

"Regular calls, regular checks to see whether or not we were progressing well and I mean two or three times a week calls from the junior minister.

"They wanted a deal and they wanted us to do it. They might say now, 'no', but I know that that was what they wanted and that was the pressure they were applying."

Mr Flowers was suspended from both the Methodist church and the Labour party after the allegations surfaced.

He told Newsnight he had suffered some "hellish" months and had been abandoned by a number of friends.

"Many of the things which have come into the public domain actually occurred after I had left office and people assumed that they had occurred before but they are quite wrong," he said. "They were after that.

"Things got pretty hairy around about the end of November and up to then there hadn't been much commentary about the things that we were doing at the bank but it got worse after that.

"For me personally there have been several months when it has been hellish. But, during that process, I have actually been very well supported by a raft of very good friends.

"You certainly find out who your friends are because a significant number of people in politics and in the Coop and some in the church have been noticeable by their silence or their absence.

"But a significant number of others have been around to offer support.

" And because I knew that I particularly needed to find some professional support for the issues that I was facing, I actually booked myself into a very well-known hospital for four weeks from the end of November to Christmas Eve and underwent what was called their addictions treatment programme for the 28 days I was there.

"I found that both cathartic and traumatic but it actually helped me to look at not so much the superficial issues of the addictions themselves but the more deep-seated reasons why people resort to any sort of addiction and for me that was I think life-changing.

"I think I'm now much more secure in my own skin, much more self-aware certainly than I was before. I put that down to the treatment at the hospital and I continue to go there every week for therapy. And the real support of really good people around me. And I think I've changed because of that process."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves called on Mr Osborne to clarify his role in the aborted takeover.

"There are questions for the Treasury to answer but it's not clear at the moment what pressure they did put on," she told BBC Radio 4's Today.

"We have heard from others but we have not heard from the Chancellor yet. I hope that the Chancellor does engage with that discussion."

The head of a failed rival bid for Lloyds said there was "clear evidence" of political pressure.

Ex-Lloyd's of London chairman Lord Levene was chairman of NBNK Investments which wanted to create a new challenger high street bank and blames senior Government figures including Business Secretary Vince Cable.

He told Today it was "an extraordinary coincidence" that the interview with Mr Flowers aired shortly after ex-Bank of England governor Lord King denied acknowledging to Lord Levene the political element to the deal.

The Treasury Select Committee published on Monday a letter from Lord King rejecting that suggestion.

"I certainly wouldn't normally like to rely on Paul Flowers as a character witness but he has certainly been consistent in what he has said and so I think the clear evidence is there that ministers ... did put a lot of pressure on for this deal to go through," Lord Levene said.

"W hat he said is entirely consistent with what he had heard all along."

Ms Reeves denied the previous Labour government bore any responsibility.

"It wasn't the Labour Party that appointed Paul Flowers or was responsible for the running of the Co-operative Bank, but of course it is incredibly depressing," she said.

"I am proud to bank with the Co-op but like many people who do I feel very let down by what's happened there."

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