Havering Council leader: Drug charge 'was result of a suicide attempt'
- Credit: Mark Sepple / Havering Council
The leader of Havering Council has confessed to having a drug-driving conviction, but has said it was the result of an attempt on his own life as he struggled to accept that he was gay.
Conservative councillor Damian White pleaded guilty to drug-driving in 2016, when he was a sitting councillor, and lost his licence.
However, in a statement issued today (March 24), he claimed he had no memory of committing the crime.
“I had taken an overdose with the intention of ending my own life,” he said.
“There are no excuses for driving under the influence, but it was not my intention of putting other people at risk.
“However, the circumstances are difficult and deeply personal.
"I never wanted to drive under the influence of drugs and have no recollection of doing so.
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“I have always suffered from mental health illness throughout my life. This stems from struggling to come to terms with who and what I am.
“When I was found by the police, I was unresponsive and was then taken to A&E to receive medical care. My first memory is being informed that I had been arrested.
“I of course pleaded guilty as I fully understood the implications of driving under the influence.”
Cllr White – who was not council leader at the time – was caught on February 6, 2016, in Bow in charge of a blue Hyundai while unfit through drugs.
He pleaded guilty at Thames Magistrates’ Court in Bow and, on May 13, 2016, was banned from holding or obtaining a driving licence for 12 months.
He was also ordered to pay a £500 fine, a £50 statutory victim surcharge and £85 in prosecution costs.
This was exposed by opposition leader Cllr Ray Morgon in a public council meeting on Wednesday (March 23).
Cllr Morgon questioned Cllr White about the conviction during a debate about crime.
The first time he brought it up he was cut off by Mayor John Mylod and Cllr White made no reply.
But he later stood and raised the issue again.
“I notice that the leader of the council didn’t actually respond to my allegation,” Cllr Morgon said.
Cllr White stood and cut him off, saying: “Mr Mayor, I’m not sure that this is relevant to the discussion. Could I ask the member to please sit down?”
But Cllr Morgon rose again, adding: “I would just make the point, Mr Mayor, that he hasn’t actually answered the allegations I’ve made against him so therefore I will take it that they are perfectly true – and it would be an absolute disgrace that we have got a leader of the council who is a convicted criminal.”
In a statement the following day, Cllr White said: “At the time, I was at one of the lowest points in my life, having suffered from harassment and bullying, particularly around my sexuality.
“I felt that I had no support or anyone that I could turn to and so I made the decision that taking my own life was the only option to end my suffering.
“I am gay. I am proud of that and I am now happy with who I am, but this has not always been the case.
“Despite what people may think, it is still very hard for someone such as me to be open about their sexuality.
“I have always strived to keep my life private and not to speak about the personal challenges that I face.
“I now know that this is wrong. No one should suffer in silence and be put in a position that they feel their only option is to end their life.
"My life has changed significantly since 2016. I now regularly manage my own mental health and support others around me with theirs.
"I am very grateful for the people that have helped me through the darkest days in my life; it is events like that that make you reflect.
“Whilst I deeply regret the events that took place, my sincerest hope is we can live in a society that is kinder, more tolerant and more supportive of people’s mental health.”
Anybody struggling with the issues raised in this article can contact the Samaritans by dialling 116 123 or emailing email@example.com.