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Secret ministry e-mail: 'Use attack to bury bad news'

October 9, 2001

A senior government "spin-doctor" was under pressure to resign after seeking to take advantage of the terrorist atrocities in America to "bury" embarrassing stories.

Within an hour of the second hijacked plane hitting the World Trade Centre, Jo Moore, an adviser to Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, sent a memo to senior colleagues trawling for sensitive material to publish.

Ms Moore has since apologised, the Prime Minister's official spokesman today said that Mr Byers accepted she had made a mistake but "equally has valued Jo Moore's skills and experience."

Timed at 2.55pm on 11 September and sent to the Department's director of communications, Alun Evans, Ms Moore wrote: "It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses? – Jo." The memo, also sent to another top civil servant and copied to a policy adviser, resulted in a minor press release about the reform of payments to councillors, but it provoked a furious reaction among officials.

A Whitehall source said: "Everyone who knows about it is appalled. It shows such insensitivity looking for party political advantages at a time when thousands of people had clearly been killed."

Theresa May, the Conservative spokesman for transport and local government, said: "If this is true it betrays a disgracefully cynical attitude ... [by] government spin-doctors. All we can hope is that this heartless attitude is not typical of Labour's publicity machine."

Don Foster, her Liberal Democrat counterpart, said the memo "plumbed new depths" of spin-doctoring. "While the rest of the world looked on in horror at what was happening in America, I find it staggering that someone was able to think along these lines. No wonder people are disillusioned with politics."

Ms Moore, 38, has had a difficult relationship with civil servants at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions and at the Department of Trade and Industry, where Mr Byers had been the Secretary of State. Mr Evans, the memo's main recipient, has since left his job after clashes with Ms Moore. She refused to comment.

Although ministers deny the charge of using the war on terrorism as a smoke screen, senior civil servants admit privately that Labour has brought forward some decisions since 11 September.

News of the appointment of Gavyn Davies, a Labour donor and friend of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, as chairman of the BBC governors, was rushed out in the wake of the terrorist attacks, as was the go-ahead for a controversial BNFL reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

By Barrie Clement and Andrew Grice, Copyright © 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd


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