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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 05:59 GMT
Byers insists press chief resigned
Martin Sixsmith and Stephen Byers have different stories to tell in the spin row
Martin Sixsmith and Stephen Byers are still at odds
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers has stood by his decision to announce the resignation of a senior civil servant, insisting that Martin Sixsmith did agree to step down.

He made the claim after Mr Sixsmith said he never agreed to leave the department and is considering returning to work as its chief press officer on Monday.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa May said the latest twist in the row about "burying" bad news proves Mr Byers has lost control of his department and that he should quit.

But speaking on ITV1's Dimbleby programme, the minister insisted he had done no wrong and called on members of the public to judge him at the election for his work to improve transport and housing.

'Fresh start'

Mr Byers said the resignations of Mr Sixsmith and special adviser Jo Moore were a "personnel matter" for his permanent secretary, Sir Richard Mottram, to deal with.


His department is in absolute chaos, there's no trust between ministers and civil servants

Theresa May
He said Ms Moore had had enough and wanted to go, adding: "I also felt in order to have a fresh start in the department because confidence had been lost, there wasn't the trust that needed to be there, that it would be good if Martin Sixsmith went as well."

Suggesting that "someone perhaps has forgotten exactly what did happen" Mr Byers said the issue was for Mr Sixsmith and Sir Richard to sort out.

Asked if Sir Richard should also stand down, Mr Byers said: "We will find out the facts of the situation."

'Incapable'

Mr Byers said he would still be transport secretary at the general election, adding: "People will judge myself the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, whether by the end of this Parliament we've seen improvements in all of those crucial areas."

Martin Sixsmith at home
Mr Sixsmith said he may still return to work
Mr Byers admitted "it certainly would have made my life a lot easier" if Ms Moore had been sacked over her "bad news" 11 September email.

"But whether it would have been the right thing I think is a question of judgement," he added.

The shadow transport secretary called on Mr Byers to quit in light of the new claims.

Ms May told the BBC: "I think it is quite clear he is incapable of running his department.

"His department is in absolute chaos, there's no trust between ministers and civil servants, he compromised the impartiality of civil servants and I think it's clearly a resigning matter."

Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddel, told the same programme the row proved the communications side of that department was dysfunctional and needed sorting out.

'Alarmed'

The "spin row" controversy resurfaced on Saturday night when Mr Sixsmith said: "I wasn't sacked, I didn't resign, I haven't offered my resignation.

Jo Moore
Jo Moore was rebuked for her 11 September email
"So when [Stephen Byers] announced it, he was in the very least mistaken."

He said that on 15 February, Sir Richard had asked him to resign with Ms Moore.

Mr Sixsmith said he would consider it, but later that day he heard on the radio that both he and Ms Moore had quit.

"I was somewhat alarmed by that. I asked to see Byers but he wouldn't see me," he said.

Sir Richard, he said, then told him he was sorry but there had been a "complete cock-up", and someone had leaked the news of two resignations.

Accusations

The row began with a reported disagreement between Mr Sixsmith and Ms Moore over whether rail statistics should be published on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral.

There were reports that Mr Sixsmith rebuked Ms Moore, who infamously wanted to "bury" bad news on 11 September, for planning to release bad rail figures on that day.

The affair led to accusations that the ministry was "at war" with itself, with staff leaking against each other, and that the neutrality of the civil service was being undermined.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"The Tories say Mr Byers should go"
UK Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa May
"It shows the incredible pressure civil servants have been put under by Stephen Byers"
Don Foster MP, Lib Dem, Transport
"Martin Sixsmith has been very badly treated"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Mr Sixsmith feels he's been lied to and stabbed in the back"
See also:

16 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Pressure grows for spin doctor curbs
24 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Byers faces new spin row
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