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EDITIONS
Friday, 7 June, 2002, 05:00 GMT 06:00 UK
Blair 'regrets' aide's behaviour
Stephen Byers
Mr Byers quit the government last week
Tony Blair has expressed regret over the conduct of a former aide to Stephen Byers who tried to establish the political allegiances of members of the Paddington rail crash survivors' group.

The prime minister's comments followed an apology from Mr Byers who quit as transport secretary last week.

It comes after a report that a former special adviser had sent an e-mail asking about the background of Pam Warren, a Paddington crash survivor who accused Mr Byers of misleading Parliament.


What worries me is that it shows quite a nasty and spiteful nature within the government

Pam Warren
Mr Byers said on Thursday he wanted "to apologise unreservedly" for the e-mail, adding that he would have stopped the message being sent if he had been aware of it.

The transport department has confirmed that an e-mail was sent by an aide of Mr Byers - thought to be former special adviser Dan Corry - to Labour's headquarters.

But it says the memo was not about Mrs Warren, but was trying to find out whether those taking over from her at the Paddington Survivors' Group had any known political links.

'Culture of spin'

The Labour Party's reply made it clear they did not, says the department.

Pam Warren, survivor of Paddington rail crash
Mrs Warren fuelled allegations over Mr Byers
But Conservative transport spokewoman Theresa May went on the attack, saying: "It's about this whole culture of spin that is there at the heart of government.

"Anybody who stands up and says what from their experience they know to be true and happens to be against the government, the government tries to come down on them like a ton of bricks."

For the Liberal Democrats Don Foster said: "Stephen Byers has admitted that the Transport department really did try to dig the dirt on crash survivor Pam Warren.

"This is an appalling and inappropriate way for a government department to behave."

"But as the demise of Stephen Byers show, if you live by spin you die by spin."

In a statement, the transport department said new Transport Secretary Alistair Darling "strongly disapproves of the fact that this inquiry was made and has made it clear that it must stop immediately".

The statement went on: "The department would also wish to apologise unreservedly for any distress that this story has caused to Pam Warren, the Paddington Survivors or their relatives."

Goal

Mrs Warren said she accepted Mr Darling's apology but she added that the prime minster's expression of "regret" was not enough.

"I don't call that an apology. If I punched you and then said those words, would you think that was an apology? I wouldn't," she said.

Mrs Warren said that if it was true that an e-mail had been sent about her it would show "a nasty and spiteful nature within the government".

She added that she had no political axe to grind - her goal was simply safer railways.

"If this government put as much emphasis on addressing problems as they do on spin, the problems would go away," she said.

It was former special adviser Jo Moore's e-mail suggesting 11 September was a good day to bury bad news that prompted much of the controversy leading to Stephen Byers' resignation last week.

Mr Darling's response to the reports shows he is keen to distance himself from the spin rows that erupted under his predecessor.

Final nail

Mrs Warren, 35, a financial consultant, claimed last month that Mr Byers misled MPs over Railtrack.

Supported by two other survivors, she said he had signalled to them he was about to put Railtrack into administration when he told Parliament the decision was not taken until a month later.

It was practically the final nail in Mr Byers' political coffin after a string of accusations that he had lied to MPs and the public.

The Independent had reported on Thursday that the e-mail was sent out before Mrs Warren's revelations.

It says there were growing fears at senior levels of the department that she was about to "go public".

Mrs Warren, former chairman of the Paddington survivors' group, suffered horrific injuries in the crash which claimed the lives of 31 people in October 1999.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Pienaar
"Byers walked away from government but not away from trouble"
Paddington crash survivor Pam Warren
"It's a very nasty and spiteful thing to do"
Shadow transport secretary Theresa May
"It reflects the culture of spin that is at the heart of this government"
See also:

06 Jun 02 | UK Politics
22 May 02 | UK Politics
28 May 02 | UK Politics
06 Jun 02 | UK Politics
28 May 02 | UK Politics
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