February 10, 2007 / 11:59 PM / in 12 years

Cameron smoked cannabis in youth - papers

LONDON (Reuters) - Opposition leader David Cameron smoked cannabis when he was a pupil at one of the country’s most exclusive schools, newspapers reported.

Cameron, who has revived the Conservative Party’s fortunes since becoming leader 14 months ago, narrowly avoided being expelled from Eton over a drug scandal when he was 15, the Mail on Sunday reported.

Seven pupils were thrown out of the school after boys were caught smoking cannabis, the newspaper said on its Web site, quoting from a new biography of Cameron.

Cameron was called in by the headmaster who forced him to admit he had smoked the drug, the report said.

A Conservative Party spokeswoman did not confirm or deny the reports on the front of several Sunday newspapers.

“The events took place almost 25 years ago and David Cameron has always maintained that politicians are entitled to a private life before they became a member of parliament,” she said.

Cameron, 40, has refashioned the Conservatives, traditionally free market and tough on law and order, into an environmentally friendly party that says it would protect the welfare state.

The Conservatives lead Tony Blair’s Labour Party in the opinion polls. The next election is not expected until 2009.

Cameron’s colleagues played down the political impact of the allegations.

“It’s something that happened to a schoolboy 20 years ago and I don’t think it really has any serious political pull today. To be quite honest, most of our generation did (smoke cannabis). I mean it was kind of the odd ones out who didn’t,” Conservative member of parliament Peter Ainsworth told Sky News.

Cameron has in the past refused to answer questions on whether he has taken drugs. The disclosure could provide ammunition to right-wing Conservatives who see Cameron as too liberal.

Blair’s government ruled in 2004 that possessing small amounts of cannabis should generally no longer lead to arrest.

Cameron said last month he might legalise cannabis for medical use if he became prime minister.

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