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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 23:49 GMT
Byers spin row claims third victim
Byers spin row
A senior civil servant has been suspended following an investigation into a leaked e-mail at the centre of a government spin row.

This suggests he (Mr Jones) was an ally of Mr Sixsmith in exposing what Jo Moore was doing

Nick Robinson
BBC Political Correspondent
No disciplinary charges have so far been brought against the Department of Transport's head of news, Ian Jones, who was deputy to former communications director Martin Sixsmith.

But his suspension on full pay is being seen as a sign of the government's determination to punish civil servants suspected of undermining Labour-appointed spin doctor Jo Moore.

It is extremely rare for a civil servant to be suspended as a result of a leak investigation.

Byers 'informed'

The move comes as a committee of MPs launches a fierce criticism of the government's reliance on special advisers.

In its latest report, the Commons transport select committee, chaired by veteran Labour MP Gwynneth Dunwoody, accuses Tony Blair of assembling a "prime minister's department" made up of unelected "apparatchiks", who were over-riding the proper workings of government.

The committee's criticisms were prompted by the prime minister's special adviser Lord Birt's refusal to appear before it.

Byers 'informed'

The decision to suspend Mr Jones is seen as part of a wider effort to end in-fighting at the transport department.

It was taken by the top-ranking civil servant in the transport department, Permanent Secretary Sir Richard Mottram.

It seems the great British public, or at least the part of it who listen to Five Live around bedtime, don't give a fig for the saga

Mark Mardell's Political Diary
click for more
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers - who has faced calls for his resignation over the "civil war" raging in his department's press office - has been informed but took no part in the decision, a spokesman said.

The move brings to three the number of victims of the row about the handling of the media in the transport department.

Ms Moore and Mr Sixsmith both left the department last month, although Mr Sixsmith disputes claims that he had resigned.

'Finger of suspicion'

Ms Moore first faced calls for her resignation after she wrote an e-mail on 11 September last year saying it was a good day to "bury" bad news.

Jo Moore
Moore: Ministers did not want her sacked
But ministers - including it is now alleged Tony Blair - stood by her, a situation which is understood to have angered some transport department officials, including Mr Sixsmith.

The latest row centres on an e-mail written by Mr Sixsmith which implied Ms Moore had once again tried to "bury" bad news - this time on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral.

The e-mail was leaked to two national newspapers, highlighting bitter departmental in-fighting.

BBC political correspondent Nick Robinson said the decision to suspend Mr Jones showed that, as far as Mr Mottram and the civil service are concerned, the "finger of suspicion" was pointing at him.

"This suggests he (Mr Jones) was an ally of Mr Sixsmith in exposing what Jo Moore was doing.

"The suggestion has always come from political quarters, from Downing Street, from Mr Byers' allies, that what was going on here was a press office that was livid that Jo Moore was still in her position that they decided to pursue that vendetta, if you like, through the prints.

"And therefore Mr Jones has been suspended as part of that inquiry."

Spin duo to give evidence

Mr Jones is expected to fight any charges brought against him and he would be covered by employment protection in the event of an attempt to sack him, Mr Robinson said.

Meanwhile, Ms Moore and Mr Sixsmith are likely to be called to give evidence to an inquiry into the relationship between ministers, their special advisers and the civil service.

The investigation by the Committee on Standards in Public Life will include an examination of the spin row which has led to calls for Mr Byers' resignation.

Blair's backing?

In a separate development, BBC Political Editor Andrew Marr said it had been suggested to him that Ms Moore stayed on after the revelation of her 11 September e-mail on the personal say-so of Tony Blair.

It was previously thought that her job was saved by the intervention of Mr Byers.

The BBC's Vicky Young
"Being a civil servant in Mr Byers' department is turning out to be a precarious job"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"They've got to stop this spinning out of control"
See also:

04 Mar 02 | UK Politics
A prescription for spin doctors
04 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Did Blair try to save Jo Moore?
04 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair's 'meddling' advisers under fire
03 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Tories pledge to curb spin doctors
01 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Spin doctors face inquiry
28 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Minister's adviser 'bullied' staff
04 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Watchdog to summon spin duo
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