For much of September 11, 2001
, very few people were getting any work done. Office work ground to a halt as people stared disbelieving
at TVs and news websites. One person for whom work famously did not stop is Jo Moore. She sent this email even before the second tower of
The World Trade Center
From: Jo Moore
To: Alun Evans; Mortimer, Robin
Date: 11/09/01 14:55:12
Subject: Media Handling
It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors expenses?
CC: Corry, Dan
Jo Moore, you see, was a special adviser to Britain's transport secretary, Stephen Byers. A 'special adviser' is a temporary civil servant,
responsible for advising a government minister, writing speeches and generally assisting a minister's work.
Special advisers are more commonly called Spin Doctors by the press.
The memo was somehow leaked the the press. The copy I reproduce above is taken from the Guardian's website. It has been widely
reported and quoted but this is the best and fullest version I could find. Obviously the press, and the public, were horrified at
what appears to be a callous and insensitive move to hide some potentially harmful political bad news under the media flurry which would inevitably surrounded the WTC attack for the
next few days. It seems that the advice was heeded, and the following day a press release was put out regarding the (very slightly) controversial issue of an increase in payments to councillors.
Jo Moore was reprimanded and given a formal warning. Tony Blair (British Prime Minister) very quickly denounced the memo:
I do not defend in any shape or form what she said, which was horrible and wrong and stupid.
David Blunkett (British Home Secretary
) also distanced himself from her actions, describing the sending of the
email as "an extraordinarily stupid thing to do"
'Stupid' is a word which a great many politicians have used to describe the memo. It is a strong word, and not frequently used
in the usually polite world of British politics. Also notable are the great many quotes which begin with the phrase
the woman to describe Jo Moore while keeping a safe distance.
Ms Moore made a public apology in front of journalists on Tuesday 16 October, 2001, nearly one week after the incident:
"I fully understand people's disgust at what I wrote. It is something I wish I'd never done and indeed find it difficult to believe I did."
"It's something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life. I can't take it back, no matter how much I wish, this terrible error of judgement."
Despite much debate, Jo Moore did not lose her job over the September 11th email.
On 14th February 2002, the press got hold of a new Jo Moore story. This time they learned that Martin Sixsmith, the transport department's media director, had sent an email rebuking Jo Moore for planning to release (damaging) statistics about Britain's railways on the same day as Princess Margaret's funeral. It looked like she'd found another good day to bury bad news.
The question moved from 'did she do it again?' to 'why had Sixsmith leaked this story to the press?'. If he had a problem with Ms Moore's behaviour, it was reasoned, he should have gone to the minister and not to the press. Jo Moore was perceived to have the absolute loyalty and trust of the Minister, Stephen Byers, and so her colleagues dared not complain in the normal manner.
On the 15th February 2002 both Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith lost their jobs in the department.
Later Jonathan Baume, the general secretary of the Association of First Division Civil Servants, gave evidence to the Commons Public Administration Committee's inquiry into special advisers. He said:
"Her behaviour was described to me as an almost textbook case of bullying."
"She appeared ... to have no grasp of the concept of the political impartiality of the Civil Service or if she did she ignored it."