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Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 09:52 GMT
Q&A: Whitehall spin row

Transport Department press chief Martin Sixsmith, who along with Jo Moore was said to have resigned over the Labour spin row, now says he was pushed out.

It's the latest twist in a Whitehall war which shows no signs of dying down, with more questions being asked about Stephen Byers' handling of the affair.

BBC News Online looks at the key questions surrounding the furore.

Who is Jo Moore?

She was Transport Secretary Stephen Byers's special adviser and personal spin doctor who came to wider fame with her now infamous e-mail on the day the terror attacks struck America.

Ms Moore suggested 11 September was a good day to "bury" bad news - comments that caused outrage and for which she has apologised.

What sparked the latest row?

Two newspapers reported that Ms Moore had been planning to bury more bad news - about poor rail statistics - on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral.

They quoted Martin Sixsmith, who was media chief at the Transport Department, telling Ms Moore in an e-mail: "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."

What was the response to that story?

Ms Moore dismissed the claims as "hurtful" and "untrue" and said the e-mail was "completely made up".

The Transport Department too said the e-mail was "fictitious" and Tony Blair's official spokesman also denied its existence.

So was that the end of the story?

It might have been had it not later been established Mr Sixsmith had written an e-mail about this issue - not to Ms Moore but to her boss, Mr Byers.

The e-mail read: "You spoke about possibly making this announcement on Friday. We should not do it on Friday, as that is the day on which Princess Margaret is being buried. There are too many connotations to the word "buried" for us to do anything on that day."

How did Downing Street react to that news?

Mr Blair's spokesman, Godric Smith, was clearly furious his credibility had been put on the line because he now had to backtrack the denials he made at the lobby briefing for political correspondents the day before.

Later that afternoon, the spokesman said a deplorable "game" had been going on, with members of the transport department's media section trying to undermine Ms Moore.

"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," said the spokesman.

What did the government do about this civil war in Whitehall?

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

That message also went out to press offices in all the other government departments as Number 10 tries to stop such damaging leaks.

Some critics believed the incident undermined the neutrality and integrity of the civil service.

What happened to Ms Moore and Mr Sixsmith then?

There was widespread speculation at Westminster that one or both of them would lose their jobs over the episode, while BBC political editor Andrew Marr commmented the pair seemed unable to work together.

Their apparent double resignation came shortly after Downing Street called on Transport Secretary Stephen Byers to get the Whitehall spin feud "sorted out".

How are things likely to develop?

Martin Sixsmith now claims he was only considering resigning, and it was Stephen Byers who in fact made the decision and announced the double resignation on 15 February.

Byers is denying the claims, but they have sparked more calls from critics for him to resign.

The civil service chief for the transport department, Sir Richard Mottram, took the unprecedented step of releasing his own version of events, which say it was his view that they should both go.

He added that he discussed it with Mr Byers, who agreed - and that Mr Byers said he would tell Ms Moore, while Sir Richard would speak to Mr Sixsmith.

Sir Richard's statement said that Mr Sixsmith had agreed to resign in principle, but that terms had not been finalised or put in writing at the time his departure was announced.

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The BBC's Shaun Ley
"On this occasion, Jo Moore appears to be an innocent victim"
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