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Simon and Shuster Publishers, Ian Chapman
"It is an odd step to take to threaten the book trade"
 real 28k

Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 14:09 GMT
'Bullying' claim over Robinson book
Stephen Byers
Mr Byers is considering suing the Daily Mail
The publishers of a book about former paymaster general Geoffrey Robinson have accused a minister of trying to bully the book trade into banning it.

Simon and Schuster say Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers is using "intimidatory" tactics over the book The Paymaster, which went on sale on Thursday.

WH Smith has refused to sell it after Mr Byers lawyers threatened legal action.

Geoffrey Robinson
Mr Robinson resigned as paymaster general in 1998
The book by investigative journalist Tom Bower alleges Mr Byers 'buried' a critical report about Mr Robinson.

Ian Chapman of Simon and Schuster told the BBC he stood behind the claims and that Mr Byers should go ahead with legal action if he wanted to challenge its contents.

"I would have expected a writ or an injunction. I would not have expected bullying tactics."

Warning letter

Several major booksellers had received letters from Mr Byers' solicitors warning them not to sell the book.

"That is an unusual step and a disappointing one in an age when freedom of speech is important to all of us," said Mr Chapman.

I would have expected a writ or an injunction. I would not have expected bullying tactics

Ian Chapman

WH Smith said it was keeping the book off its shelves as a temporary measure "while we seek legal advice".

The Waterstones chain of bookshops reversed an earlier decision and is selling the book.

The allegations made by Mr Bower have already been serialised in the Daily Mail newspaper.

Mr Byers threatened to sue the newspaper, and his solicitors asked the book's publisher to remove passages from the text.

Waterstone's bookshop
Waterstone's: Decision not taken lightly
But it is being released unchanged.

Reputation at stake

Mr Byers has not ruled out legal action against the Daily Mail because he says his reputation is at stake.

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

Some of the book's claims have been referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Elizabeth Filkin, by the Conservatives.

Miss Filkin has begun what has been called a "preliminary inquiry" into Mr Robinson after Tory trade spokesman David Heathcoat-Amory wrote to Mrs Filkin expressing concern over the allegations.

She said she would investigate the complaint that Mr Robinson failed to declare a 200,000 payment from newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell in 1990.

Mr Robinson has always denied receiving the money.

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See also:

21 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Byers fights to 'defend reputation'
22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Robinson cleared over Transtec failure
23 Dec 98 | UK Politics
Double resignation rocks government
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