Pressure grows on Byers over handling of spin and Railtrack

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Indy Politics

Stephen Byers was under pressure last night over his handling of the Railtrack crisis and his refusal to sack the spin doctor who sent an e-mail minutes after the terrorist attacks in America saying it was a good time to "bury" bad news.

The Treasury is furious at the way the Secretary of State for Transport handled the announcement that the Government planned to pull the plug on Railtrack, and fears for other public-private partnerships ­ particularly the £180bn 10-year transport blueprint.

Whitehall insiders said Gordon Brown was angry that the decision, due to be disclosedon Monday, leaked out last weekend. "The Treasury is hopping mad about Railtrack and Downing Street is hopping mad about the e-mail," a source said.

Security officers began investigating how the e-mail was leaked to The Independent.

Meanwhile, Number 10 appeared to distance itself from Mr Byers' decision not to sack Jo Moore, the spin doctor who sent the e-mail. Mr Blair's spokesman said: "Ms Moore still has the confidence of Stephen Byers and the Prime Minister has not changed his view of Mr Byers." But the veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, on BBC's Question Time, called for her to resign.

Number 10 was also defensive over disclosures that Mr Byers forced Alun Evans, his director of communications, out of his job after he refused a request from Ms Moore to release information aimed at discrediting Bob Kiley, London's transport commissioner.

This was not a "personal vilification", Number 10 said. It was also revealed that Ms Moore was among those who planted a story in The Sunday Telegraph in August intended to damage Mr Kiley by saying he had was accused of "cronyism" when he ran the New York subway. The news editor was Chris Boffey, who had handed in his resignation to become a spin doctor to Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education.