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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 22:33 GMT
Byers under pressure to resign
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 is facing opposition demands for his resignation as the row over "media spin" in his department takes another surprise turn.

Sir Richard Mottram, the senior civil servant at the transport department, has taken the unusual step of issuing a statement describing his version of events surrounding the departure of press chief Martin Sixsmith and Mr Byers's controversial adviser, Jo Moore.

Mr Sixsmith insists he did not quit 10 days ago - a departure Mr Byers announced together with the resignation of Ms Moore.

Mottram's view:
Sixsmith agreed to resign
Moore should also resign
Byers agreed both should go
Sixsmith's departure announced before details finalised

But according to Sir Richard, Mr Sixsmith had agreed to resign although the details of his departure had not been finalised when it was announced he had quit.

Mr Sixsmith then retracted his offer to leave, insisting he had never resigned, claimed Sir Richard.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have demanded that Mr Byers should be sacked, but Downing Street says he retains the prime minister's full confidence.

Sixsmith's view
Did not resign
Forced out by Byers
No suspicion of misconduct
Sir Richard's statement said that he had decided the two had to go, that Mr Byers had agreed to the plan and that the transport secretary had spoken to Ms Moore about her departure.

'Broken relationships'

In it he said: "On Friday 15 February it was clear to me that this situation could not continue and that Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith should both leave their posts, because relationships within the department and with its ministers had broken down.

"I discussed this with Mr Byers. He agreed with my proposal. We agreed he would talk to Jo Moore and I would talk to Mr Sixsmith."

Byers's view
Sixsmith did resign
Had nothing to do with decision
Byers retains prime minister's confidence
Sir Richard said he had two conversations with Mr Sixsmith on 15 February before his resignation was announced.

Mr Sixsmith was reluctant to go, but "agreed that he was willing to resign on three conditions".

But at a meeting later that evening, Mr Sixsmith "argued that he had never resigned".

"He said that the release of the announcement without his agreement changed everything. Much of the discussion focused on monetary compensation," said Sir Richard.

'Incapable'

Mr Byers insists Mr Sixsmith told Sir Richard he was resigning and that this information was passed on to him.

He has suggested that "someone perhaps has forgotten exactly what did happen".

BBC political editor Andrew Marr said Mr Byers would survive this latest row - for the time being.

Martin Sixsmith at home
Mr Sixsmith said he may still return to work
"I think I can say, with absolute certainty, that he will still be in his job tomorrow morning and he has got as much chance as the rest of us of having a healthy and long life," he said.

"But I don't think I'll go much beyond that."

The latest twist in the row prompted Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith to repeat his call for Prime Minister Tony Blair to sack Mr Byers.

"This whole mess needs to be cleared up for the sake of the travelling public and for the sake of democracy," he said.

"Stephen Byers has clearly lost control. If he can't get a grip of his own staff, how is he ever going to get to grips with the rail network?

"He should go and go now."

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy echoed the call, stressing that it was clear Mr Byers "can't do his job properly" and that it would be wise for him "to step aside at this point".

The latest "spin 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.

This followed an e-mail written by Ms Moore which suggested 11 September would be a good day to bury bad news.

Mr Sixsmith 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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Pienaar
"Each of these controversies leave Stephen Byers weaker than before"
Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith
"Stephen Byers should be sacked"
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"
See also:

25 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Mottram's statement in full
26 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Tables turned by spin doctors
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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