Embattled BP chief set to step down as struggle to cap spill continues

EMBATTLED BP chief executive Tony Hayward will be replaced, with a formal announcement expected over the next 24 hours, it emerged last night.

• Tony Hayward has been under pressure from the US press and politicians over the Gulf of Mexico leak (Credit: Larry Downing/Reuters)

A United States government official briefed by senior BP figures confirmed a change of leadership at the oil giant was under way.

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The news comes ahead of a meeting of the group's board of directors today and the release of interim results tomorrow.

Today's meeting, understood to be taking place at BP's headquarters in London at around midday, could be followed by a formal statement outlining the chief executive's exit plan.

The senior US official said he was briefed on the decision late last week.

Over the weekend, Mr Hayward was reported to be in talks with the BP board over a compensation deal.

A spokesman for BP maintained that the chief executive continued to have the "full support of the board and senior management" and that the company would not comment on speculation.

But it is now widely expected that Mr Hayward - who has been the target of much of the criticism levelled at BP over the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill - will step down in the coming days.

Bob Dudley, currently BP managing director, is tipped to be his successor.

BP was quick to stress Mr Dudley's links to the American south when he took over day-to-day running of the clean-up operation in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Mr Hayward noted that "having grown up in Mississippi, Bob has a deep appreciation and affinity for the Gulf Coast".

Mr Hayward - a BP employee for 28 years - has been repeatedly singled out for attack over his handling of the spill.

He angered Washington early on in the disaster by expressing a wish to have his "life back".

Last month he faced a barrage of criticism in front of a Senate committee in Washington. During a lengthy grilling by US politicians he was accused of presiding over "astonishing" corporate complacency.

It will be announced in the coming days if Mr Hayward is to face a second encounter on Capitol Hill. The US Senate foreign relations committee want him - alongside Westminster and Holyrood politicians - to answer allegations that BP was involved in lobbying for the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

A BP spokesman said yesterday that the firm "will respond" to requests from the committee and "will offer someone", but has not said who.

Among all the gloom for BP, there was better news today regarding the clean-up operation in the Gulf.

A tropical storm that forced relief workers to evacuate the site on Friday fizzled out, allowing ships to begin returning.

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Engineers are now hoping that clear weather will last long enough for them to finish their work on the relief wells.

Mud and cement will then be pumped into the broken well through the relief tunnels in an attempt to permanently seal the outlet.

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