Badenoch accuses ex-Post Office chairman of 'seeking revenge' over sacking as postmaster payments row deepens

20 February 2024, 00:08

A row between Kemi Badenoch and Henry Staunton is deepening
A row between Kemi Badenoch and Henry Staunton is deepening. Picture: Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

The Post Office's former chairman has accused the Business Secretary of making a series of "astonishing claims" after she told Parliament he had spread "made-up anecdotes" about his sacking.

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The row between Henry Staunton and Kemi Badenoch has deepened after he claimed that he had been told to stall postmaster compensation payouts affected by the Horizon scandal.

Ms Badenoch, the Business Secretary, told MPs on Monday that there was "no evidence whatsoever" of his account and branded it "a blatant attempt to seek revenge" for his sacking.

She also claimed he was being investigated over bullying allegations before he was fired as chairman of the Post Office, and that concerns were raised about his "willingness to co-operate" with the probe.

Kemi Badenoch speaks to the Commons on Monday
Kemi Badenoch speaks to the Commons on Monday. Picture: Parliament

Responding to the Secretary of State's claims, Mr Staunton's spokesperson said Ms Badenoch had made an "astonishing series of claims" about his departure.

"This is the first time the existence of such allegations have been mentioned and Mr Staunton is not aware of any aspect of his conduct which could give rise to such allegations," they said.

"They were certainly not raised by the Secretary of State at any stage and certainly not during the conversation which led to Mr Staunton's dismissal. Such behaviour would in any case be totally out of character."

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

Read More: Post Office campaigner Alan Bates turns down 'cruel and derisory' government payout offer for Horizon scandal

The row begun after Mr Staunton, who was sacked by Ms Badenoch in January, told the Sunday Times that he had been told to delay payouts as the Tories headed into an election.

Ms Badenoch had said allegations relating to Mr Staunton's conduct, including "serious matters such as bullying", were being examined and concerns were also raised about his "willingness to co-operate" with the formal investigation.

Speaking in the Commons, she also described it as "so disappointing that he's chosen to spread a series of falsehoods, provide made-up anecdotes to journalists and leak discussions held in confidence".

Ms Badenoch said it had confirmed in her mind that "I made the correct decision in dismissing him".

She told MPs: "Mr Staunton claimed that I told him that someone's got to take the rap for the Horizon scandal and that was the reason for his dismissal. That was not the reason at all.

"I dismissed him because there were serious concerns about his behaviour as chair, including those raised from other directors on the board.

"My department found significant governance issues, for example, with the recruitment of a new senior independence director to the Post Office board.

"A public appointment process was under way but Mr Staunton apparently wanted to bypass it, appointing someone from within the existing board without due process.

"He failed to properly consult the Post Office board on the proposal, he failed to hold the required nominations committee, most importantly he failed to consult the Government as a shareholder - which the company was required to do.

"I know that MPs will agree with me that such a cavalier approach to governance was the last thing we needed in the Post Office given its historic failings.

"I should also inform the House that while he was in post a formal investigation was launched into allegations made regarding Mr Staunton's conduct. This included serious matters such as bullying. Concerns were brought to my department's attention about Mr Staunton's willingness to co-operate with that investigation."

Laura Trott on Post Office scandal compensation 'taking too long'

Labour's shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said ministers must ensure claims the Government had looked to stall Horizon compensation payments are "shown to be false in no uncertain terms".

He said: "Yet we do now have two completely contrasting accounts, one from the chairman of the Post Office, and one from the Secretary of State, and only one of these accounts can be the truth."

Ms Badenoch has since reiterated her denial of the claims and said: "There would be no benefit whatsoever of us delaying compensation.

"This does not have any significant impact on revenues whatsoever. It would be a mad thing to even suggest, and the compensation scheme which Mr Staunton oversaw has actually been completed, and my understanding is 100% of payments have been made, so clearly no instruction was given."

Postmaster: 'There has been no effort to change the culture within the post office

The Horizon was brought to the fore earlier this year after it an ITV drama about the scandal aired on TV in January.

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.