LANCASHIRE County Council leader Geoff Driver looks relaxed as he describes the time since he was arrested in connection with the long-running One Connect police inquiry as ‘horrific’.

The Burnley-born Tory politician admits in an exclusive interview that the 14 months since the police knocked on his door in May 2017 as he recovered from major surgery had been ‘hell’.

With his Clarets mug and mouse mat of Jimmy Adamson leading out the 1960 First Division title-winning team at Turf Moor in front of him, Cllr Driver said he was enjoying being back in the County Hall hot seat and still had much to achieve.

The son of a mechanical engineer and a weaver, he was raised in Burnley, Waterfoot and Rossendale and still has a strong loyalty to his East Lancashire roots.

The 73-year-old described the traumatic times he has endured since the probe into the county council and the joint venture with BT began but said he had no regrets about signing the controversial One Connect contract that sparked the four-year investigation, adding that he is not built to ‘take a back seat’.

Asked to describe the time since his arrest with three others on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation, Cllr Driver said: “Horrific. The last two years have been absolutely horrific. It’s there. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve co-operated fully. I’ve got a job to do here and I get on with it.”

Cllr Driver said he first knew of the One Connect investigation in February 2014.

Asked if it had been four years of escalating ‘hell’, he said: “Yes.

“It’s been traumatic and it’s not an experience which I would ask anybody to go through but it’s there. I can’t do anything about it. It’s not very pleasant.”

Asked if he had any regrets about signing the One Connect contract, Cllr Driver said: “No. No. Because it was beneficial to the county council and events have shown that.”

Asked if whether he would stand down as county leader if eventually charged, he said: “I can’t answer hypothetical questions.”

All this raises the question of why a 73-year-old with a long career in council finance and Tory politics behind him, along with a CBE awarded in the 2013 Queen Birthday Honours for services to local government, should have wanted to come back as county leader last year.

Cllr Driver said: “I enjoy it. I feel that I have something to offer. I’ve got a good team around me. And I enjoy the challenge, as well as doing my bit for the people of Lancashire. I know that sounds trite but it’s important.

“That includes all the people of Lancashire. As you know I have an affection for East Lancashire. I was born and bred there and I’ve got a lot of friends there family there.

“Preston is the base for the county council but I do my best to spread the jobs around.”

Asked about reconciling the challenge of coming back as leader while the investigation was hanging over him, Cllr Driver said: “I don’t really have to reconcile it because the two issues are there. If I want to do it as leader of the council, I just have to get on with it . What will happen and what is happening there is outside of my control. So I just get on with it.”

Asked if this interfered with his ability to lead the authority, he said: “Some people have actually said ‘I don’t know how you do it’. But we’re all certain individuals and we’re all made a certain way by the good Lord and I’m able to put it to one side and just get with being leader of the county council which is fairly busy, fairly time consuming and it occupies my time.

“Do I lose sleep over it? Yes, inevitably, and I manage.

“Nobody has complained other than my political opponents.

“So I think it’s fair to say I’m doing a good job despite everything.”

Asked if running the authority helped him deal with the pressure which comes with the police investigation, he said: “Well it certainly occupies my time, doesn’t it? And it means that I’m not sitting and brooding because I’m busy.”

Asked is his wife Yvonne and two sons ever urged him to give up the leader’s job, Cllr Driver says: “Quite often. My family are concerned about my welfare. It’s not a secret that I was seriously ill last year and I had to have major surgery for a life-threatening illness in January from which I was recovering when I got the knock on the door in May.

“I haven’t taken a back seat yet because my professional career and my political career have been fairly front seat.

“My wife is a diamond. She’s fully supportive and it’s fair to say I couldn’t have got through the illness and the trauma that’s ensued since without her and I couldn’t be leader of the county council without her support.”

He set out his ambitions for the current Tory administration ending in 2021: “To have got children’s services back to at least good and hopefully moving into outstanding. To have sorted out the mess that is adult social care and to have put the county council’s finances on a firm footing.”

Asked if he ever thought of giving up, Cllr Driver said:“No. I’m not built like that. I’m the sort of character that I don’t give in.

“I’m determined to sort the problems that the county council has. I’ve been elected first to serve the people of Preston North and then as leader of the county council and I shall fulfil my responsibilities in both respects.”

Cllr Driver added: “We were determined to reopen libraries that the previous administration closed and we’ve done that. We’re well down the road.

“They’re the hub of the communities is many areas.”