Stephen Byers faces renewed spin row

 

Britain’s conservative party has accused transport secretary Mr Stephen Byers of misleading parliament over the departure of his news chief after an embarrassing row about government media manipulation.

Mr Byers told the House of Commons three months ago that his communications chief Mr Martin Sixsmith had resigned - along with Mr Byer's special adviser Ms Jo Moore - following reports that they had clashed over plans to sneak out bad news.

Newspapers said at the time that Ms Moore, who suggested on September 11th that press officers take the chance to "bury" bad news because the eyes of the world were on the US suicide attacks, had proposed releasing a set of transport figures on the same day as the funeral of Princess Margaret.

The papers quoted a reportedly leaked e-mail from Mr Sixsmith admonishing Ms Moore.

In an attempt to calm the furore, which critics said cut to the heart of Prime Minister Tony Blair's obsession with news management, Mr Byers announced within 24 hours that both Mr Sixsmith and Ms Moore had stepped down.

But a statement issued by Mr Byers' department and Mr Sixsmith yesterday said Mr Sixsmith never resigned and his contract would be ended by mutual agreement at the end of this month.

Shadow Transport Secretary Ms Theresa May said Mr Byers, who told parliament that Mr Sixsmith had resigned 11 days after his first announcement, was either incompetent or had misled MPs.

Mr Byers, a close ally of Mr Blair, has been accused by opponents of lacking judgement over his running of Britain's struggling transport network since he was appointed to his post in June last year.