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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 18:44 GMT
Ministry 'at war with itself'
Jo Moore
Jo Moore is at the centre of more controversy
Downing Street has reacted with fury to what it describes as efforts within the Department of Transport to undermine controversial spin doctor Jo Moore.

On Thursday morning a spokesman for Tony Blair had denied the existence of an e-mail which reportedly suggested that Ms Moore had proposed releasing information to coincide with the funeral of Princess Margaret.


Princess Margaret is being buried on that day - I will absolutely not allow anything else to be

Alleged e-mail from Martin Sixsmith to Jo Moore
It now appears that there was such an e-mail but couched in very different terms from those suggested in press reports.

The communication reportedly contained the words "Princess Margaret", "Friday" and "buried".

The e-mail was sent by DTLR communications chief Martin Sixsmith to Transport Secretary Stephen Byers.

These revelations prompted an unprecedented reaction from the prime minister's official spokesman who had just hours earlier described the e-mail as "fiction".

The late Princess Margaret
Princess Margaret's funeral is on Friday
The spokesman said his earlier denial had been based on a conversation with Mr Sixsmith.

He added: "If anonymous sources want to dispute that they can but they should have the courage of their convictions and come out in the open and say so.

"There are people within the department who will hide behind anonymity and do everything possible to undermine Jo Moore and the department and the secretary of state."

Mike Granatt, head of the Government Information Service, was writing to Mr Sixsmith putting in the "strongest possible terms" the point that if people have a complaint then they should use proper channels.

Ms Moore had already rejected the latest allegations against her saying that they were both "very hurtful" and "completely untrue".

"I did not propose releasing any bad news to coincide with Princess Margaret's funeral, and the reported e-mail is completely made-up," she said.

Riding the storm?

Ms Moore survived the storm over her e-mail to colleagues on 11 September, suggesting it was a good day to "bury" bad news.

Both the Mirror and the Express newspapers have carried the text of an e-mail allegedly from Mr Sixsmith appearing to reject a plan by Ms Moore to release bad news on Friday.

The papers reported Ms Moore had suggested releasing embarrassing statistics about rail delays, cancellations and signals passed at danger on Friday, when Princess Margaret is due to be cremated.

Although not suggesting Ms Moore specifically mentioned the funeral, they said the proposal was made at a meeting with press officers on Monday, the day after Buckingham Palace named the date for the funeral.

'Fabrication'

The DTLR was quick to dismiss the e-mail as "fictitious".

And the department later issued a brief statement from Mr Sixsmith saying: "I can confirm that the line given at the 11.30 lobby briefing this morning was correct and had been agreed by me in advance."

A Downing Street spokesman said earlier that railway performance data had been due for release either on Thursday or Friday.

No 'bad news'

The e-mail purportedly from Mr Sixsmith read: "Dear Jo, there is no way I will allow this department to make any substantive announcements next Friday.

"Princess Margaret is being buried on that day. I will absolutely not allow anything else to be."

Ms Moore said the announcement could not be considered "bad news" as it did not involve the release of new statistics, but merely details of indicators for future studies of rail performance.

But shadow transport secretary Theresa May said: "Having gained a reputation for insensitivity after her callous e-mail on September 11, this latest row is proof of what we have said all along - that Jo Moore's position is untenable.

She added: "It is clear that the Department of Transport is falling apart under Stephen Byers's stewardship.

"He has been reduced to the indignity of having Downing Street seek to rescue him from his own officials. He has no credibility. He must go."

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The BBC's Political Editor Andrew Marr
"A furious Downing Street says there's a game going on in the transport department"
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