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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
Spin row PR chief did not resign
Martin Sixsmith and Stephen Byers have different stories to tell in the spin row
At odds: Martin Sixsmith and Stephen Byers
The Transport Department has admitted it announced the resignation of its media chief when he had not agreed to quit.

The news is the latest twist in what became known as the Spingate affair around transport communications director Martin Sixsmith.


The department announced that he had resigned on what turned out to be an incorrect understanding of earlier discussions that day

Tuesday's statement
And it has led to fresh Tory calls for Mr Byers' resignation for misleading MPs.

The prime minister's official spokesman insisted that Mr Byers did not mislead MPs when he told them on 26 February that Mr Sixmith had resigned.

Internal feuds

But he also confirmed that the transport secretary knew on the previous day that there had been an "incorrect understanding" over the resignation.

Conservative transport spokesman Theresa May said Mr Byers should come to the House of Commons to answer the allegations.

That call was echoed by Liberal Democrat Paul Tyler who speaks for his party on Commons' affairs.

The 'Spingate' affair also saw the resignation of controversial special adviser Jo Moore, who had earlier suggested that 11 September was a good day to bury bad news.

With the department apparently riven by internal feuding, it announced that both Mr Sixsmith and Ms Moore had agreed to resign.

Former BBC journalist Mr Sixsmith had always disputed that version of events, saying he had first heard of his "resignation" on the radio.

Good faith

On Tuesday, a statement agreed between the Transport department and Mr Sixsmith was released.

It said: "The department regrets that, while acting in good faith, they announced that he had resigned on what turned out to be an incorrect understanding of earlier discussions that day."

Mr Sixsmith's contract would finish "by mutual agreement at the end of May", continued the statement.

No details of any financial pay-off for the public relations chief were mentioned in the text.

But it said comments from Transport Secretary Stephen Byers meant Mr Sixsmith felt he had good reason to take his story to the Sunday Times.

"He regrets in hindsight that this exacerbated a breakdown in working relations between him and the secretary of state," it continued.

Funeral furore

"Both parties accept this now makes it impossible for Martin Sixsmith to work effectively in his post."

The resignations row sprung from a furore over reports that Mr Sixsmith had warned Ms Moore not to announce bad news on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral.

Downing Street initially said the e-mail rebuke did not exist but performed a U-turn on after its existence was confirmed.

Mrs May said: "Stephen Byers told Parliament that Martin Sixsmith had resigned.

"This latest revelation suggests Mr Byers either misled parliament, the press and the public, or that he has no grip on his department.

"Either way he must now come to the House of Commons and answer allegations that he misled MPs and spell out the cost of the compensation package offered to Mr Sixsmith."

While Mr Tyler said: "Clearly, if Stephen Byers misled the House of Commons - even if it was by mistake - he should be explaining and apologising to MPs first, not simply admitting the mistake to the press."

The transport secretary should clear up the matter by making a Commons statement, Mr Tyler said.

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The BBC's Andrew Marr
"The government has admitted you cannot resign someone against their will"
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