Chaotic press conference spells new disaster for 'spin doctor' trying to escape e-mail row

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Indy Politics

The woman who used to pride herself on her skilful handling of the media spun herself into another public relations disaster yesterday.

Jo Moore had hoped to draw a line under the row that broke out over her e-mail describing 11 September as a good day to bury embarrassing news stories, by making a brief statement to Sky Television.

But the tactic backfired spectacularly, infuriating rival broadcasters and newspaper reporters who crowded into the lobby of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) where she works as a "spin doctor". The DTLR contacted Sky at 1.45pm, asking for one of its camera crews to be in place for a statement by Ms Moore at 2pm. Within minutes, the news had filtered out to the lobby correspondents of BBC, ITN and national newspapers, who raced to the DTLR headquarters in Victoria.

The inevitable rumour that the special adviser to the Secretary of State, Stephen Byers, was about to resign swept the gathering throng.

Watched by civil servants in surrounding offices, reporters angrily mobbed Tom Elliott, a senior press officer charged with handling the event.

He reiterated that only Sky's cameras and a reporter from the Press Association would be allowed to record the event and that Ms Moore would not accept any questions on her statement.

Mr Elliott said: "She is doing a statement to camera. This is the way it is happening. Unless you are part of Sky or PA there is little point being here. I don't want you to waste your time, there won't be any additional statement."

Exasperated security staff vainly attempted to persuade the growing crowd to move back from the lobby towards the department's entrance.

Twenty-two minutes late, the favoured few were ushered to an open-plan office to hear Ms Moore's words.

Dressed in a sober navy suit, she walked down a short corridor for the camera before repeating a memorised statement recognising people's "disgust" at her comments and apologising for the embarrassment caused by her "terrible error of judgement".

Ms Moore showed none of the self-assured air that Westminster has come to associate with her. She appeared nervous, hesitant and reluctant to make eye contact with the camera. The two reporters present strained to pick up her words.

Meanwhile the press pack downstairs was handed a transcript of her comments that varied in almost every sentence from her actual statement.

The chaos underlined the continuing damage to the Department, and much of the Whitehall machine, by the Moore affair.

In particular, her failure to acknowledge the distress her comment caused to the relatives of victims of the American atrocity was widely seen as a bad error of judgement.

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