Badenoch accuses former Post Office boss of lying about 'stalling Horizon scandal payments' claims

18 February 2024, 22:23 | Updated: 18 February 2024, 22:25

The Business Secretary has hit out at a former Post Office boss who said he was told to stall compensation for victims of the Horizon scandal ahead of the next general election.
The Business Secretary has hit out at a former Post Office boss who said he was told to stall compensation for victims of the Horizon scandal ahead of the next general election. Picture: Alamy

By Chay Quinn

The Business Secretary has hit out at a former Post Office boss who said he was told to stall compensions for victims of the Horizon scandal ahead of the next general election.

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Kemi Badenoch has slammed former Post Office chairman Henry Staunton for alleging he was told by a senior civil servant to "stall" spending on compensation to subpostmasters ahead of the next general election.

Mr Staunton, who was sacked by the Business Secretary last month, used an interview with the Sunday Times to suggest that the alleged request was linked to concerns about the cost of compensation heading into the election.

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He also told the paper that Ms Badenoch told him that "someone's got to take the rap" for the Horizon scandal and that he discovered his sacking following a phone call from Sky News.

The claims prompted an immediate and strongly worded denial from the Government, with Ms Badenoch also using social media to accuse the former chairman of "disgraceful misrepresentation" of the reasons he was ousted.

London, United Kingdom. 6th February, 2024. Kemi Badenoch, Secretary of State for Business and Trade leaves No 10 after the Cabinet Meeting.
London, United Kingdom. 6th February, 2024. Kemi Badenoch, Secretary of State for Business and Trade leaves No 10 after the Cabinet Meeting. Picture: Alamy

Mr Staunton, who took up the role in December 2022 following nine years as chairman of WH Smith, had told the newspaper: "Early on, I was told by a fairly senior person to stall on spend on compensation and on the replacement of Horizon and to limp, in quotation marks - I did a file note on it - limp into the election.

"It was not an anti-postmaster thing, it was just straight financials. I didn't ask, because I said 'I'm having no part of it - I'm not here to limp into the election, it's not the right thing to do by postmasters'.

"The word 'limp' gives you a snapshot of where they were."

Henry Staunton
Mr Staunton, who was sacked by the Business Secretary last month, used an interview with the Sunday Times to suggest that the alleged request was linked to concerns about the cost of compensation heading into the election. Picture: UK Parliament

Ms Badenoch, in a lengthy post on X, said the comments were a "disgraceful misrepresentation of my conversation with him and the reasons for his dismissal.

"Henry Staunton had a lack of grip getting justice for postmasters. The serious concerns over his conduct were the reasons I asked him to step down.

"That he chose to run to the media with made up anecdotes and a series of falsehoods, confirms I made the correct decision."

She said her call with Mr Staunton "was with officials" who took a "complete record".

Alan Bates, former Sub-postmaster, Founder, Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, giving evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee of the subject of the Post Office and Horizon scandal. Picture date: Tuesday December 14, 2021.
Many, including leading campaigner Alan Bates, have complained about unnecessary delays to victims in receiving compensation. Picture: Alamy

"He has given an interview full of lies about our conversation during his dismissal.

"The details will emerge soon enough as I won't let the matter rest here, but will be discussing with (government) lawyers," she said.

Ms Badenoch is expected to make a Commons statement about the matter on Monday.

The scandal has been pushed into the public eye by a major ITV drama into the long legal fight by subpostmasters to get justice.

But many, including leading campaigner Alan Bates, have complained about unnecessary delays to victims in receiving compensation.

Cabinet Meeting in Downing Street
Cabinet Meeting in Downing Street. Picture: Getty

Home Office minister Michael Tomlinson on Sunday also firmly denied Mr Staunton's claim.

"I don't accept or recognise that.

"We are encouraging postmasters to come forward. We have brought legislation through the House of Commons which will enable those payments to be made, and that is something that we are encouraging rather than anything.

"I just don't recognise anything to the contrary of that," he told Times Radio.

A Government spokesperson said: "We utterly refute these allegations.

"The Government has sped up compensation to victims and consistently encouraged postmasters to come forward with their claims.

"To suggest any actions or conversations happened to the contrary is incorrect. In fact, upon appointment, Mr Staunton was set concrete objectives, in writing, to focus on reaching settlements with claimants - clear evidence of the Government's intent.

"The Secretary of State asked Henry Staunton to step down as chairman of the Post Office because a change in leadership was needed."

UK's Liberal Democrats Leader Ed Davey Unveils New Campaign In Guildford
UK's Liberal Democrats Leader Ed Davey Unveils New Campaign In Guildford. Picture: Getty

More than 700 branch managers were prosecuted by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 after faulty Horizon accounting software made it look as though money was missing from their shops.

Hundreds of subpostmasters and subpostmistresses are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: "The Horizon scandal is widely accepted to be one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British history.

"Under no circumstances should compensation to victims be delayed and to do so for party political purposes would be a further insult to sub-postmasters.

"The Labour Party has called for all sub-postmasters to be exonerated and compensation paid swiftly so that victims can begin to draw this awful chapter to a close.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said the claims were "deeply disturbing", who said "ministers must come to Parliament and explain exactly what has happened at the earliest opportunity".

That call was echoed by Labour's Kevan Jones, a long-time campaigner on behalf of subpostmasters, who called on Ms Badenoch to face MPs' questions "instead of governing by social media".

"This is not about playing party politics - it is about holding the Government to account," he said on social media.

The Post Office and the UK Government Investments (UKGI) body also rejected any suggestion that either organisation had opposed a blanket exoneration for subpostmasters, after other claims by Mr Staunton to the newspaper.

BRITAIN-JUSTICE-POST OFFICE-INQUIRY-JAPAN-FUJITSU
BRITAIN-JUSTICE-POST OFFICE-INQUIRY-JAPAN-FUJITSU. Picture: Getty

A spokesman said: "Post Office is very aware of the terrible impact from this appalling scandal and miscarriage of justice.

"We refute both the assertions put to us and the words and phrases allegedly used, and are focused on supporting the Government's plans for faster justice and redress for victims, as well as helping the inquiry get to the truth of what happened.

"In no sense did Post Office seek to persuade Government against mass exoneration, we remain firmly committed to supporting faster justice and redress for victims."

A UKGI spokesman said: "We strongly refute the claims levelled by Mr Staunton, both in the facts presented and the suggestions made as to UKGI's overall role."

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