Labour spin doctors resign

Controversial spin doctor Jo Moore and Whitehall communications chief Martin Sixsmith have quit, Downing Street confirmed today.

The news emerged just hours after Mr Sixsmith was publicly warned that any civil servants who were caught leaking information should resign or face the sack.

Rumours of their departure emerged during the funeral service for Princess Margaret.

The furore which apparently led to their downfall centred on whether the event should be used as a smokescreen for the release of bad news.

Earlier today Downing Street ordered Transport Secretary Stephen Byers and his top civil servant, Permanent Secretary Sir Richard Mottram, to end the bitter civil war within their department that had dragged No 10 into accusations of cover-up and lies.

Mike Granatt, head of the Government's Information and Communications Service, delivered the stark warning in a letter to Mr Sixsmith, Director of Communications at the Department of Transport.

Mr Granatt, Mr Sixsmith's civil service chief, wrote, in a letter officially released to PA News: "I think it should be known that I will not defend any member of the GICS who acts in this way ... anyone who feels so strongly that they wish to act outside the Civil Service code should do the honourable thing and resign."

The official warning shot came as Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said bluntly: "It is pretty apparent from all that is going on here that there are issues that are going to have to be looked at and sorted out by Stephen Byers and his Permanent Secretary."

Mr Blair's spokesman said this morning that the Prime Minister "absolutely" retained confidence in Mr Byers.

But when asked the same about Ms Moore and Mr Sixsmith, the spokesman pointedly replied: "I'm not going to get into a running commentary on personnel issues."

His comments fuelled speculation that either of the two, or both, would pay with their jobs for the extraordinary feuding engulfing Whitehall.

Ironically, news of their departures appeared to have leaked with neither Downing Street or the DLTR initially willing to give official confirmation of the resignations.

Mr Byers said in a statement that both Ms Moore and Mr Sixsmith had done the "right thing" in resigning.

He acknowledged that there had been a "breakdown of trust" within the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

"My department has this afternoon accepted the resignations of Martin Sixsmith and Jo Moore," Mr Byers said.

"It is clear that there has been a breakdown of trust within the department. This could not be allowed to continue.

"Both Martin Sixsmith and Jo Moore have done the right thing by offering their resignations.

"The department faces major challenges to deliver our ambitious programme. It will need the undivided attention of ministers and civil servants.

"I believe that, as a result of these resignations, we shall be in a far stronger position to meet these challenges in the months and years ahead."

Their decisions to quit came after 48 hours of civil war which had engulfed Whitehall and dragged the Prime Minister's personal spokesman and Commons leader Robin Cook into a web of leaks, counter-leaks and accusations of lies and cover-up.

Ms Moore was at the centre of a row over whether she had received an email from Mr Sixsmith warning of the dangers of releasing sensitive information on the same day as Princess Margaret's funeral.

The fall of the two became inevitable when the Prime Minister's official spokesman Godric Smith said recent events had caused his integrity and credibility to be called into question.

Downing Street continued to insist today that the actual e-mail reprinted in two newspapers yesterday did not exist.

The Prime Minister's spokesman also said Ms Moore had never suggested releasing statistics on rail performance today, and that it was Mr Byers himself who had first suggested the timing - before Princess Margaret's death.

Mr Sixsmith later alerted Mr Byers by e-mail to the dangers of an announcement on the day of the Princess's funeral being misconstrued, said Mr Blair's spokesman.

He refused to elaborate on the contents of the e-mail, which was also sent to Ms Moore and only one other civil servant.

"People have spun this and twisted this for a certain agenda. In the end I hope people will objectively look at the facts and reach their own conclusions," he said.

He added: "If people are briefing anonymously in a way that only serves to undermine the trust between civil servants and ministers, then clearly it is only appropriate that these things are addressed."

Mr Sixsmith had earlier today defiantly declared the stories surrounding the Whitehall furore were, "nonsense" and said he only wanted to get on with the job of improving Britain's public transport system.

But now he has quit his post as director of communication at the department and Ms Moore has similarly resigned as special advisor to Transport Secretary Stephen Byers.

The Cabinet minister's future must now be open to doubt since he had publicly backed Ms Moore - after her infamous email suggesting September 11th was a good day to bury bad news - and persuaded the Prime Minister to go along with him.

Downing Street will now desperately hope that the two resignations will draw a line under the affair that has brought Whitehall virtually to a standstill for the last two days.

Mr Granatt's letter to Mr Sixsmith was headed simply: "Leaks".

It says: "The crux of the issue is this. Trust between ministers and all civil servants is of paramount importance. Because of the work we do and the access we have, trust between the GICS staff and ministers is essential and cannot be compromised.

"Without that trust, we could not do the job; and ministers are entitled to rely on that trust without question.

"I understand that Godric Smith spoke to both you and the Secretary of State in preparing for this morning's (yesterday's) 11 o'clock briefing to ensure he was accurately putting the department's case.

"For that to be undermined by an anonymous, inaccurate briefing apparently from DTLR is unacceptable."

Mr Granatt went on: "All of our conduct must be governed by the Civil Service Code. It says unequivocally that we must act in a way which retains the confidence of ministers, and the confidence of any future administration.

"I hope this letter already echoes what you have said to you staff."

Copies of the letter to Mr Sixsmith were sent to Cabinet Secretary Sir Richard Wilson, Sir Richard Mottram, Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's two spokesmen, Godric Smith and Tom Kelly, and Whitehall heads of information.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said he had spoken not only to Mr Sixsmith following yesterday's events but also to Mr Byers and others involved, though he gave no further details.

"I have spoken to the different protagonists, or different people, involved in this issue - and there you go," he said.

The spokesman said he stood by everything he had said yesterday but made plain his despair at being engulfed in the controversy saying: "I'm not pointing the finger at anybody. I don't know who's doing this ...

"The consequence of what they are doing is to undermine their own department, their own Secretary of State, that is certainly a fact."

The Tories tonight said that Mr Byers should resign.

"The judgment of Stephen Byers was already in question after he stood by Jo Moore after the e-mail of September 11 and it would be wrong for him to survive when both of his appointments have had to go," shadow transport secretary Theresa May said.

"It is perfectly clear that Stephen Byers cannot run his own office, let alone a transport network. He should go."