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Tim Maloney, head of litigation at Eversheds
"He [Byers] does have discretion not to publish if there are sensitive issues which would justify delay"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 13:46 GMT
Byers fights to 'defend reputation'
Stephen Byers
Mr Byers is considering sueing the Daily Mail
Trade Secretary Stephen Byers has demanded an apology from the Daily Mail over allegations that he buried an official report into the business affairs of former paymaster general Geoffrey Robinson.

Mr Byers has asked the newspaper to withdraw the claim and make a "substantial" donation to the NSPCC children's charity.

And he is to consider further action if "the offending parts" of a book on which the Mail's claims are based are not removed before it goes on sale.

The book by investigative journalist Tom Bower claims that Mr Robinson received 200,000 from the late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell - a claim rejected by the ex-minister.

I don't want to do it, but you get to the stage where you have to defend your reputation

Stephen Byers

Mr Byers says he has not ruled out legal action against the newspaper because his reputation was at stake.

He said: "They've made some very serious allegations, saying I suppressed a report and denied it to parliament.

"There's no factual basis to those allegations and therefore I've reluctantly had to take this action.

"I don't want to do it, but you get to the stage where you have to defend your reputation."

But a libel case heard in open court would be a high risk strategy - one that very few serving ministers have ever pursued.

The Daily Mail has said it will stand by its story in court if necessary, and has threatened further revelations over the course of the week.

Instructions issued

Mr Byers' solicitors, Goodman Derek, confirmed they had received instructions from the trade secretary, and have written to the book's publishers, Simon & Schuster.

The accusations against Mr Byers were published on Monday and the Mail has since stepped up its attack over the financial affairs of Geoffrey Robinson.

The newspaper alleged on Tuesday that Chancellor Gordon Brown had played a role in trying to cover up the tax affairs of the former minister, who resigned after disclosures that he loaned Peter Mandelson money to buy a house.

Geoffrey Robinson
Mr Robinson resigned as paymaster general in 1998

The allegations about Mr Brown have been dismissed as "fictional nonsense" by the Treasury.

The chancellor was asked about the report during a session of the Commons treasury committee on Tuesday, which was examining this month's Budget.

However, Mr Brown refused to be drawn on the article saying he would not answer questions on what were completely misleading reports.

When pressed, Mr Brown said: "I am not going to diminish the Budget by getting into an argument about gossip."

On Tuesday, the Department of Trade and Industry rejected the allegations against Mr Byers, saying they were "complete rubbish".

Further revelations

Mr Byers sought permission from Downing Street before instructing his solicitors to take action against the newspaper - an unusual action for a serving minister.

The row centres on accusations that the former treasury minister misled parliament when he denied receiving 200,000 from disgraced publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell.

The book claims to be able to prove that Mr Robinson received the money and that the findings of an official investigation were deliberately concealed by Mr Byers.

'No money received'

In a statement, Mr Robinson said the article "failed to present any new information".

"The claim that I was paid 200,000 as chairman of Hollis Industries has been made before and was fully investigated by the DTI who have today made their position clear about the Bower story.

"My own position has been absolutely clear throughout. Neither I nor any company associated with me received this money."

The Conservatives are calling for an inquiry into the matter and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said he still intended to table a question in the Commons about the claims.

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See also:

19 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Byers fights cover-up claims
22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Robinson cleared over Transtec failure
23 Oct 00 | UK Politics
No fraud charges for Robinson
16 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Calls for home loan inquiry
21 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Robinson cleared by trade inquiry
03 Mar 99 | UK Politics
MPs rap Robinson again
23 Dec 98 | UK Politics
Double resignation rocks government
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