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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Profile: Stephen Byers
Stephen Byers
Mr Byers denies deliberately allowing the firm to fail

Former transport secretary Stephen Byers has proclaimed a "great victory" in a High Court case against the shareholders of the defunct company Railtrack.

They failed to persuade a judge that his department had acted maliciously and actively sought the firm's collapse.

"This legal action was a political attack on my decision to deny Railtrack yet more taxpayers' money," Mr Byers said.

The case is the latest episode in a turbulent political career.

Mr Byers resigned as transport secretary in 2002, after months of pressure in which his name was rarely seen without the prefix "embattled" or "beleaguered".

Controversy

Out of office, he has found himself defending his actions as a Cabinet minister, as Railtrack's shareholders demanded compensation and accused the government of deliberately allowing the firm to fail.

But the man who left government insisting he was no liar had to admit in court that he had not been truthful to MPs about how Railtrack was wound up.

He now faces having to make a personal statement to Parliament about that untruth.

But Mr Byers' resignation was not just about Railtrack. His troubles really centred around the infamous email from his special adviser, Jo Moore, suggesting that 11 September 2001 was a "good day to bury bad news".

Once he decided to stand by Ms Moore, he lined himself up against swathes of media and political opinion and looked to be living on borrowed time.

Within a few weeks, Mr Byers was accused of pushing a senior civil servant out of his job for refusing to participate in a smear campaign devised by Ms Moore.

And when he decided to wind up Railtrack, he was accused of misleading MPs and faced the wrath of both Railtrack bosses and shareholders.

Early career

Mr Byers was born in Wolverhampton and won a place at Chester City Grammar, leaving early to take his A-levels at a local college because he hated the school.

He went on to gain a law degree at Liverpool.

His background is as a law lecturer and as a councillor in Newcastle.

Mr Byers took a while to get a seat at Westminster - largely because he lacked trade union sponsorship which is something of a must in the north-east of England -, but once he was there it was, by the standards of British politics, a rapid rise.

When Labour took power in 1997 he became schools standards minister - laughing off the embarrassment of getting his times-tables wrong in an early radio interview in the job.

But after less than seven years as an MP he was in the Cabinet as chief secretary to the Treasury.

Rover upset

Promoted to trade secretary, Mr Byers faced the Rover debacle, which left workers at Longbridge fearing for their jobs after BMW's shock decision to sell the British car manufacturer.

He became a focus for angry workers and is accused of having ignored warnings about the state of Rover from BMW chairman Joachim Milberg.

But in the trade brief he also was charged with overseeing reforms to the Post Office and the sensitive subject of trade union law.

In the wake of the 2001 election, he was shunted sideways into the transport secretary post.

Since his departure from the Cabinet, he has maintained his pro-European credentials.

And before the last election he joined Alan Milburn in pressing for a strongly Blairite manifesto, as well as saying reforms of public services risked being "too modest and timid".


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Watch Stephen Byers respond to the verdict



SEE ALSO
Ex-minister denies Railtrack plan
12 Jul 05 |  Business
Byers wished to 'kill' Railtrack
04 Jul 05 |  Business
Railtrack 1bn payoff plan claim
28 Jun 05 |  Business
Railtrack case goes to High Court
27 Jun 05 |  Business

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