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Howard: I bunked off school

Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, has admitted playing truant from school in Jack's snooker hall in Llanelli.

In an interview with The TES, Mr Howard said he had no regrets about his behaviour in the 1950s, even though the Tories have repeatedly criticised the Government for failing to get tough enough on truancy.

"I don't think it's done me any lasting damage," Mr Howard said. "Nor has it made me a snooker world champion."

He said that he used to leave the grounds of Llanelli grammar school during lunchtime with friends for the "nefarious purpose" of playing snooker.

Asked whether he had ever bunked off lessons to play the game, he said:

"There might have been some occasions when we left early of an afternoon."

In a speech to grammar school heads this year, Mr Howard said it was tragic that children had played truant a million times last year. Was he concerned that his own experiences might send the message that they could miss classes and still become political party leaders and lawyers?

"I'm just being honest," he said. "I think truancy is a bad thing and that firm action should be taken to deal with it."

Emyr Phillips, a friend of Mr Howard's at Llanelli grammar, recalled earlier this year that there had been "something of the truant" about the party leader. He claimed that Mr Howard had first begun to hone his legal techniques on the occasions when the two pupils had been called before the head about their lunchtime absences.

Mr Howard also revealed that, under Conservative plans, schools - not parents - would have the final say over whether they should select students academically.

The Conservative leader said he took satisfaction that Llanelli had produced at least one international snooker champion. Terry Griffiths won the world championship on his first attempt in 1979.

Interview, News 4

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