Civil servant says Byers vetoed his compromise deal

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Indy Politics

Martin Sixsmith dealt another blow to his political boss Stephen Byers yesterday by flatly rejecting the Secretary of State for Transport's claim that he was not involved in the decision to force him to resign.

The outgoing director of communications at the crisis-hit Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) said that Mr Byers vetoed a compromise deal to allow him to move to another Civil Service post.

His two-pronged attack added to the immense pressure on Mr Byers, who insisted in a television interview on Sunday that he was not involved in the negotiations over Mr Sixsmith's future. Mr Byers said then that the "personnel matter" was handled by Sir Richard Mottram, the DTLR's top civil servant, and denied blocking Mr Sixsmith's move to another Whitehall job.

Significantly, Downing Street refused to endorse Mr Byers's claim that he did not veto the compromise plan. But it rejected Mr Sixsmith's allegation that "sources close to No 10" had launched a smear campaign against him by urging journalists to investigate how many properties he owns.

The face-saving deal was discussed last week after the Government announced that Jo Moore, former special adviser to Mr Byers, and Mr Sixsmith were to resign in an attempt to end the damaging feud between Ms Moore and civil servants in the DTLR press office.

Despite the announcement, Mr Sixsmith did not tender his resignation because he wanted to safeguard his reputation. It is believed the DTLR offered to raise his severance pay from £45,000 to £100,000 during last week's negotiations.

But he insisted yesterday: "I'm not interested in money about this, I just want a statement to say that I didn't actually do anything wrong and I'm not being tarred with the same brush as other people."

In interviews with BBC Radio 4 and ITV News, Mr Sixsmith declared that he was asked to resign even though Sir Richard admitted to him: "I know you have done nothing wrong, Martin."

Highlighting Mr Byers's involvement in the talks over his future, Mr Sixsmith said: "Richard [Mottram] told me he'd spoken to Stephen Byers about this and that the decision was that it had to be a symmetrical resignation – I had to go as the same time as Jo [Moore]."

Mr Sixsmith was told by three separate sources who were engaged in the negotiations that they had agreed a deal and it was being blocked by Mr Byers. Outlining the events surrounding the "double resignation" on 15 February, Mr Sixsmith said he left the DTLR for a hospital appointment without having resolved his future with Sir Richard.

"When I got out of that medical appointment, I heard Stephen Byers on the radio saying that he had accepted my resignation. Since I hadn't resigned, I thought that was rather odd," he said.

Mr Sixsmith criticised the intervention of Sir Richard, Permanent Secretary at the DTLR, who issued an unprecented statement about the events on Monday in an attempt to save Mr Byers's skin. He said it was "very wrong that a civil servant [such as] Sir Richard should be forced to appear in public to defend a political decision, taken by a politician".

Mr Sixsmith insisted he had "no agenda" against Mr Byers or Ms Moore. "I am only interested in clearing my reputation and if possible, securing my job," he said.

He said he decided to talk to the media as a "last resort" after the face-saving deal fell through – but admitted that in doing so he might have committed a sackable offence.

On the alleged smear campaign against him, Mr Sixsmith said: "I've had well-respected journalists from well-respected newspapers ringing up and saying sources close to No 10 are saying: 'Ring Martin and try to find out something about his property portfolio.'"

Although he did own a flat in Paris it seemed bizarre to suggest there was anything "murky" about that, he said. Mr Sixsmith also owns a house in Knightsbridge, London, worth an estimated £2m. But Tony Blair's official spokesman strongly denied Downing Street was involved in a "smear campaign" against Mr Sixsmith and challenged people with any evidence to "name names".

The spokesman hit back at Mr Sixsmith, claiming he had refused to answer several key questions in yesterday's interviews, notably why he had allowed a false story to run in newspapers that Ms Moore had suggested that rail performance figures should be published on the same day as Princess Margaret's funeral.

However, Mr Blair's spokesman repeatedly refused to endorse the line taken by Mr Byers in his interview on Sunday or say whether he had told the truth. "The Secretary of State expressed himself in his own words," he said.

The spokesman insisted that until Mr Sixsmith aired his grievances publicly in The Sunday Times "all options were on the table" – including another Civil Service job. He added that Mr Byers did not have a veto because he would not make the final decision.

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