AS Kenneth Leadbeater faced sentencing, it spelled not only the end to his political career but also his ambitions of becoming MP for Dartford.

As his successor Jeremy Kite said on the day Leadbeater pleaded guilty at Dartford Magistrates' Court: "Kenneth is no longer fit to hold public office."

In February 50-year-old Leadbeater was being questioned by police over "computer related crime".

He stepped down as leader of Dartford Council 10 days after Kent Police's Detective Constables Peter Wakerly and Jackie Curtis called at his home in Watermill Way, Sutton at Hone, on February 13 to seize his computer and quiz him.

His statement to the press failed to make reference to a police investigation and instead he said the leader's post carried "enormous responsibilities" and he was stepping down to "concentrate on other things".

But in a telling move, he also stepped down from Leigh City Technology College in Dartford where he was on the board of governors.

The college, which teaches 11 to 19-year-olds, had Leadbeater helping with its accounts since 1990.

During the ensuing months, Leadbeater avoided public meetings. Despite his resignation as leader, he still remained a councillor for the Heath ward.

Then, after nearly four months of investigating, police charged Leadbeater on June 5 with 14 counts of making indecent images of children.

At his court appearance on June 9 it emerged there were a total of 322 images found on his computer, two of which had been printed out.

Colleagues say Leadbeater, who works in the City as an accountant, only realised the enormity of what he had done on the day of the magistrates hearing.

Sordid trade

Current council leader Cllr Kite said: "I think he may have been in some kind of denial about the seriousness of what he had done.

"But I take a hard line on this. While he may not have physically assaulted a child, what Kenneth has done is not a victimless crime.

"Those who give custom to such websites are fuelling a much bigger and more sordid trade which is seeing children suffer sexual abuse."

Cllr Kite says he is still hugely disappointed in Leadbeater.

"When I spoke to Kenneth in February, what I got was a partial disclosure. I was learning about the extent of the evidence on the day of the initial court case.

"What he's done is simply defenceless.

"He called me from Dartford Magistrates' Court to say he was pleading guilty. I fired him on the spot and from there our relationship died.

"I remember being sat at my office desk at work. It was a very uncomfortable phone conversation. I had to remove someone from office I had known for 15 years - but there was no other alternative."

A few days later on June 13 - exactly four months after police called at his house - Leadbeater officially resigned as a Heath ward councillor by letter to Dartford Council.

He also resigned from the Dartford Conservative Association.

Leadbeater enjoyed being an active member of the community.

At his initial court appearance in June Richard Conley, mitigating, referred to a particularly low point in Leadbeater's life.

Sources have since disclosed he was left devastated after making it close to becoming a Tory candidate for Dartford in the 2005 General Election, but ultimately falling short of the mark.

He made it into the top four in the selection process, but missed out to Gareth Jones who stood and lost to Labour MP Howard Stoate.

Tory councillor Andrew Lloyd, who was voted into Leadbeater's Heath ward seat in July, said: "I think Kenneth's worst punishment is that he has lost being an important and influential member of the community.

"He took great pleasure doing what he thought was right for Dartford. I've known him for 20 years but politically I have no interest in him anymore."

Councillors at Dartford Council say the former leader was very demanding and intense to work under.

One former colleague said since Leadbeater's departure the mood has lifted and councillors and staff are relishing working in a more open environment.

Open about sexuality

Leadbeater never really hid his sexuality. But within his last five years in office fellow councillors say he appeared much more relaxed about bringing partners to council functions and public events.

He felt comfortable in the circles he associated in, where the fact that he was gay was openly accepted.

He remains a dedicated member of the Ballet Association and often attends performances and operas.

News Shopper wrote to Kenneth Leadbeater last month to see if he wanted to put his point of view across following his court case.

He did not reply.