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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 11:29 GMT
Officials under threat in spin row
Jo Moore
Jo Moore has denied the allegations
The careers of controversial spin doctor Jo Moore and transport media director Martin Sixsmith are said to be on the line in Whitehall's civil war.

Downing Street did little to dampen that speculation as the government ordered civil servants in all its press offices not to use the media to air complaints about ministerial spin doctors.


There are people within the department who will hide behind anonymity

Prime minister's official spokesman
The move comes after a fierce row over what Downing Street described as efforts within the transport department to undermine controversial spin doctor Jo Moore.

Mr Sixsmith said on Friday the whole story was "complete nonsense and worse than that a distraction".

"My only job is to help Stephen Byers sort out public transport in this country. That is all I'm interested in doing - that is all Jo (Moore) is interested in doing."

Despite that unity message, Mr Sixsmith did not answer when asked whether he could work with Ms Moore.

Two newspapers reported that Mr Sixsmith had sent an e-mail implying Ms Moore had proposed poor rail statistics be released on Friday, the same day as Princess Margaret's funeral.

Spokesman's u-turn

On Thursday morning a spokesman for Tony Blair denied the existence of such an e-mail but it was later established an e-mail was sent by Mr Sixsmith to Transport Secretary Stephen Byers.

It has been suggested it did contain the words "Princess Margaret", "Friday" and "buried".

This revelation came after dismissals of the story from Ms Moore as "completely untrue", categorical denials by Tony Blair's official spokesman and the description of the e-mail story as "fabrication" by Commons leader Robin Cook.

Martin Sixsmith, communications director at the transport department
Sixsmith brands the row a "distraction"
The longest serving MP, Labour's Tam Dalyell repeated his call for Ms Moore to leave her job.

That was a point underlined by shadow transport secretary Theresa May, who said Ms Moore's position was now "untenable".

"What is at stake here is the neutrality and integrity of the civil service and both Number 10 and Stephen Byers are undermining that in the way there are putting their faith in the spin doctors rather than the civil servants," said Mrs May.

Liberal Democrat MP Annette Brooke says there should an inquiry into the affair, which looked like "spin out of control in a big way".

Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the First Division Association union for senior civil servants, said Ms Moore, nor Mr Sixsmith had done anything wrong on this occasion.

But such leaks damaged both the civil service and the government.

Blair under pressure

Admitting the existence of the "communication" on Thursday afternoon, the prime minister's official spokesman refused to disclose its contents but did not deny Jo Moore had received a copy.

Ms Moore was caught in a storm after she e-mailed colleagues on 11 September suggesting it was a good day to "bury" news.

The late Princess Margaret
Princess Margaret's funeral is on Friday
The prime minister's official spokesman accused Department of Transport civil servants of playing a "game" aimed at discrediting Ms Moore.

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."

He insisted: "There is something going on here.

'Completely made-up'

"I'm not prepared to have my integrity and my credibility put on the line, because I believe they are commodities which are precious, which I value."

Mike Granatt, head of the Head of Government Information and Communication Service, is 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 initially dismissed the allegations as "hurtful" and "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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Shaun Ley
"On this occasion, Jo Moore appears to be an innocent victim"
Jonathan Bowme, civil servants' representative
"I'm not a fan of Jo Moore"
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