Gordon Brown finally said sorry yesterday for the plan to smear senior figures in the Conservative Party that forced the resignation of his close aide Damian McBride.
But as the Cabinet met in Glasgow, some ministers expressed concern that Mr Brown had prolonged the controversy by refusing to issue a personal apology for six days. "He should have killed this off at the start by saying sorry. It has not been handled well," one said.
On Monday, the Prime Minister said the affair was "a matter of great regret", angering the Tories by declining to say sorry or accept responsibility. But yesterday he bowed to the inevitable, saying: "I am sorry about what happened."
On a visit to the Govan shipyard, he said he had been "horrified" and "very angry" when he first learned about the emails between Mr McBride and Derek Draper, founder of the LabourList website, which discussed plans to run false allegations about Tories on a proposed gossip site, RegRag. "I take full responsibility for what happened. That's why the person who was responsible went immediately," he added.
Mr Brown said he wanted to reassure the public that everything was being done to clean up politics in Westminster: "The person who was responsible went immediately and lost his job and I have ensured that there are new rules so this can't happen again. We have done everything in our power to deal with this."
George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, who along with his wife was a target of unfounded slurs, welcomed Mr Brown's apology but said: "It has come a little late... and it is a shame we had to ask for it. I wish this whole thing had never happened, that is a statement of the obvious. But it did and the Prime Minister has at last, many days later, admitted full responsibility for it. That is fine; people will draw their own conclusions about the kind of government he runs."
Nadine Dorries, a Tory MP and another possible victim, added: "I am pleased he said sorry but why didn't he say it to me first?"
The Tories renewed their call for an investigation into whether any ministers or other aides knew about RedRag. Charlie Whelan, the former Brown aide who received emails about the RedRag site, said he may ask the police to investigate his private email account being "hacked into" a few weeks ago. Mr Whelan said: "I am not in any way defending the contents of those emails, but it is worth pointing out that no one in the media seems at all concerned that hacking into people's computers to gain private information is still illegal in this country."
He said Paul Staines, who blogs under the name Guido Fawkes, had refused to say during media interviews how he had come to obtain the emails.
Yesterday Mr Draper issued a personal apology to the Tories who he had discussed targeting with Mr McBride.