SNP plays 'Purcell card' as criminal links and cover-up claims keep scandal flames burning

MORE allegations have emerged about potential links between disgraced Glasgow City Council leader Steven Purcell and criminals.

Further accusations have also emerged of a cover up with claims that senior council officials were kept in the dark about police concerns over Mr Purcell's drug use.

The latest claims emerged as the SNP made it clear that Mr Purcell's name will feature heavily in their general election campaign in the city which is launched today.

Freedom of information requests have shown that a number of senior figures in the council knew about Mr Purcell's drug problems but decided not tell officials.

Most seriously, the council's senior officer, chief executive George Black, appears to have been kept in the dark about a meeting Mr Purcell had with police related to his cocaine use and the potential for organised gangs to put pressure on him.

Mr Black only appears to have been informed about the meeting ten months later.

Questions have also been asked about Mr Purcell's links with an alleged gangland pub in the city. There had been suggestions that video footage was taken of the former council leader using cocaine. And there were reports yesterday that he may have become a blackmail target after taking cocaine with a dealer he met in The Boundary bar, in Yoker, Glasgow.

The pub is run by Kelly Bryce the sister of Jamie Bryce, who was part of a gang convicted of assaulting a clubber. The pair's father, James Bryce, is a convicted drugs dealer. The unnamed dealer at the centre of the alleged blackmail plot is understood to have gone back to Mr Purcell's flat for a late night party.

The downfall of the 37-year-old former council leader, once tipped as a future Scottish Labour leader in Holyrood or for a successful career in Westminster, appears to be the main card for SNP MP John Mason to defend his Glasgow East seat.

Mr Mason, who has asked Strathclyde Police to investigate the Purcell affair, will launch the campaign today with party deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon, just 24 hours before the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is expected to go to the Queen and ask for an election.

Many had believed that the seat, which was won by the SNP in a shock by-election result in July 2008, would revert to Labour, whose candidate Margaret Curran was defeated by Mr Mason last time round. But the SNP believes the Purcell affair has given them a chance of holding on to the seat and will strengthen Mr Mason's credentials as a "local champion".

Mr Mason yesterday renewed his calls for an independent inquiry into Mr Purcell and decisions taken while he was leader of the council.

"There are now too many questions flying around in the wake of Steven Purcell's resignation about who knew what and when," he said. "Labour should welcome the chance to prove they have not acted improperly."

But Labour have accused Mr Mason of trying to make political capital out of a personal tragedy.

A Labour spokesperson said: "Even other SNP members have been quick to distance themselves from John Mason after his ill-advised comments around the departure of Steven Purcell from public life."

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