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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 15:13 GMT
Profile: Sir Richard Mottram
Richard Mottram, permanent secretary at the transport department
Richard Mottram was tipped for the top job
The glittering prize of becoming cabinet secretary looked within the grasp of the transport department's most senior civil servant.

Now Sir Richard Mottram, the man tipped as a frontrunner for the Downing Street job, has to cope with the fallout from in-fighting in his own department.

It is not the first time the 55-year-old has become embroiled in major disputes between ministers and other civil servants.

As private secretary to then Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine in 1985, Sir Richard gave evidence for the prosecution in the trial of Clive Ponting.

Mottram's career
Joins civil service aged 22
Works at Cabinet Office
Private secretary to Michael Heseltine at Defence
Head of Office of Public Service and Science
Permanent Secretary at MoD
Permanent Secretary at DTLR from 1998
Mr Ponting was charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act - but was acquitted by the jury.

During the trial, Sir Richard was asked whether ministers' comments should be truthful and unambiguous.

He replied: "In highly-charged political matters, one person's ambiguity may be another person's truth."

Westland experience

Sir Richard's time working with Michael Heseltine gave him first hand experience too of the storm surrounding high-profile resignations - as his boss walked out of the cabinet in the Westland crisis.

Sir Richard Mottram
Mottram worked alongside Prescott between 1998 and last year.
Sir Richard joined the civil service aged 22, having gained a first class degree in international relations from Keele University - a contrast to the Oxbridge origins of many Whitehall mandarins.

He quickly gained promotion, working at the Cabinet Office before the Ministry of Defence and winning his own department in 1992 as head of the Office of Public Service and Science.

After three years as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, he was moved again in 1998.

Transport move

The early years of the Labour government saw him alongside Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Seen as a moderniser when improving public services topped Tony Blair's agenda, he kept his senior position when the department was restructured last year.

Now Stephen Byers has landed responsibility for dealing with the current furore with Sir Richard.

The transport secretary said it was Sir Richard who had told him about Mr Sixsmith's disputed resignation.

And batting away questions about Mr Sixsmith's claims on ITV's Dimbleby programme, Mr Byers said such "personnel" matters was handled by Sir Richard.

Now attention is focused on whether Mr Byers or Sir Richard could themselves be involved in a personnel shake-up in the higher echelons of government.

See also:

25 Feb 02 | UK Politics
A question of trust
24 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Byers insists press chief resigned
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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