Sixsmith: I was offered £100,000 hush money

Former press chief reveals bid to save Stephen Byers's skin - and threatens to tell all in book
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Indy Politics

Martin Sixsmith, the former press chief to Stephen Byers, was offered £100,000 hush money in a desperate attempt to save the skin of the Secretary of State for Transport.

The former director of communications in the transport department caused a storm last week when he accused Mr Byers of lying over his resignation, blocking a job move and trying to bully him into quitting.

Mr Sixsmith told close associates this weekend that he turned down the unprecedented pay-off, opting instead to fight for his reputation. He is prepared to go to almost any lengths to do that and has already consulted lawyers about mounting an unfair dismissal case against Mr Byers and the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR).

Mr Sixsmith, who kept an 18,000-word dossier charting the meetings and telephone calls as the scandal unfolded, is adamant the truth will out. A literary agent is already considering two offers from publishers vying to buy his story in book form.

The cash offer made to Mr Sixsmith – the equivalent of a year's salary in a deal that also required him to keep quiet in public and private about what had gone on – is the clearest indication yet of how close Mr Byers thought he was to having to resign last week.

Mr Sixsmith insists – more than two weeks after Mr Byers announced his aide's resignation on television – that he has not resigned.

The top civil servants' union, the First Division Association, is negotiating on Mr Sixsmith's behalf from the standpoint that he is still in the job, arguing that he should be given another job at the same grade and pay, but in a different department.

As part of a compromise deal – said to have been blocked by Mr Byers, Mr Sixsmith was offered a job working on the Queen's Golden Jubilee until the summer when he would return to a mainstream press office job.

Mr Byers, in his statement to the Commons last Tuesday, said it was his view that Mr Sixsmith should not be given another job in government. And while he had given a view to Sir Richard Mottram, the top civil servant in his department, he was not in a position to block any arrangements about his future employment.

It was after Mr Byers's statement to MPs that the Prime Minister told him and Sir Richard Mottram to "clean up the mess" at the DTLR.

But Mr Sixsmith has told friends that the statement was "alarmingly insulting" to him because it gave the impression that the former BBC reporter was "not fit to be a waiter in a greasy-spoon café".

He is understood to believe that Mr Byers lied to the Commons – a resigning issue – by denying that he had the power to block the deal. Mr Sixsmith's dossier makes it clear that the compromise deal was agreed by Sir Richard Mottram, Alastair Campbell, Martin Sixsmith, Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, and Mike Granatt, the head of the Government's communications service.

According to Mr Sixsmith's notes, everyone was on board except for Mr Byers. The Secretary of State was refusing to return the Permanent Secretary's calls and Mr Campbell suggested he was given time "to let him cool down a bit and then see if he's being a bit more amenable".

Mr Sixsmith has privately admitted to friends that he is "very bitter" about what has gone on. But he insists he is "not interested in money" and is seeking a different sort of remedy.

The only thing likely to prevent him taking the issue to an employment tribunal is fear of "what will they dig up and throw at me", he has told friends. Mr Sixsmith, though he admits to being "stubborn", isn't certain he would want to put his family through that.