Byers denies £100,000 Desmond donation sealed Express takeover deal

LONDON - Beleaguered transport secretary Stephen Byers has denied that porn baron Richard Desmond's £100,000 donation to New Labour influenced his decision on the takeover of Express Newspapers.

Speaking on 'Breakfast with Frost' yesterday, Byers, who was trade minister at the time of the donation in 2001, said that the decision came after he had made a statement saying that the Department of Trade and Industry would go along with the director general of fair trading's recommendations on which takeovers should be referred to the competition commission. This statement was made in 2000 -- before Desmond's Northern & Shell made a bid for Express Newspapers.

It was revealed on Sunday that Desmond had made the £100,000 donation in the run-up to the 2001 general election. Desmond had formerly been a Conservative Party donor. The Express supported Labour during the election.

Originally, Northern & Shell, which publishes the adult titles Asian Babes and Nude Readers' Wives, had offered the Labour Party free advertising space. However, Labour declined and asked for a cash donation. It is said that the money was later spent on ads in Express Group newspapers.

Byers is already facing calls for his resignation after telling parliament that the transport department's head of communications Martin Sixsmith had resigned. Sixsmith maintained, and was later vindicated, that he had been forced out of his job.

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