Former BBC man was no stranger to controversy in Whitehall posts

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Indy Politics

Martin Sixsmith is far from being the only BBC journalist to have crossed the line from reporting to a government or party communications role.

Among his contemporaries, Lance Price became a Downing Street aide in Tony Blair's first term, Emma Udwin now works for the European Commission, and Mark Laity became a spokesman for Nato.

But Mr Sixsmith alone has managed to be in the spotlight and on the defensive on more than one occasion.

His previous job for the former social security minister Harriet Harman, before she was sacked, ended in acrimony when the two fell out over the presentation of her public profile. That time the row was contained firmly behind the scenes.

He left to join GEC Marconi, which later saw its share value plunge by billions of pounds.

His appointment as the director of communications at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) was announced in November, within weeks of the disclosure that Jo Moore, the special adviser to the Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers, had e-mailed colleagues on 11 September to say it was a good time to "bury bad news".

He replaced Alun Evans, who was reportedly forced out by Ms Moore when he refused to take part in a smear campaign against Bob Kiley, the London transport chief.

Mr Sixsmith had held a similar role to his brief at the DTLRwhen he worked at the then Department of Social Security (DSS) between 1997 and 1999, where he had reported to Ms Harman.

A colleague from the time recalls: "Being so close to party politicians is not that comfortable for Martin. There was a big falling-out between Harriet and him. It just got rather less publicity than his present situation. Martin is fundamentally a very nice man. He is very principled and also very stubborn."

Mr Sixsmith, 47, was educated at St Antony's College, Oxford, Harvard University, and the Sorbonne in Paris. He joined the BBC as a trainee in 1980 and worked as the corporation's correspondent in Brussels, Geneva, eastern Europe, Moscow and Washington.

In 1997, he went to Whitehall as the director of communications at the DSS. In 1999, he joined GEC Marconi before he moved to the DTLR on a reported salary of £100,000.

BBC colleagues remember him as an intelligent and effective reporter who was never afraid to speak his mind. But, they say, he was also far more "sensible" than many of his workmates, who spent their evenings living life to the full.

"Martin started a family well before many of us," said one friend, "and his family and his job were of paramount importance to him."