Ex-Post Office chair asked to face MPs over victims’ compensation claims

MPs want to question Henry Staunton on allegations he was told by an official to “stall” compensation.
Ex-Post Office chair asked to face MPs over victims' compensation claims
Henry StauntonUK Parliament

The Post Office’s former chair faces being questioned by MPs over a claim he was told by a government official to delay compensation to sub-postmasters.

Henry Staunton alleges he was told to stall payments to allow the government to “limp into the election”, apparently to help state finances.

The government denied the claim and Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch is set to make a statement in the House of Commons on Monday.

Mr Staunton has stood by his comments.

Following his claims, Liam Byrne, Labour MP and the chair of the Business and Trade Committee, told the BBC that he wanted to question Mr Staunton at a session next week.

The committee will be hearing evidence from Post Office chief executive, Nick Read, and Alan Bates, a former sub-postmaster whose battle against the Post Office inspired the recent ITV’s drama into the scandal and thrust it back into the spotlight.

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of sub-postmasters and postmistresses were wrongly prosecuted after a faulty computer system called Horizon made it look like money was missing from their branches.

Some sub-postmasters wrongfully went to prison, many were financially ruined. Some have since died.

The government has promised to quash convictions and pay compensation, but concerns have been raised over the speed and complexity in victims securing financial redress, with just 33 claims fully settled.

It would be Mr Staunton’s second appearance before the committee, after he answered questions from MPs in June.

Mr Byrne told the BBC’s World at One: “We’ve got to get to the bottom of which senior official, he says, told him to go slow on the payments because we’ve got to remember that the government is bringing forward a bill which is going to overturn the convictions and I want to use that bill to hardwire into our legislation a fixed timetable for actually getting all of the compensation payments sorted.”

Mr Staunton, who has been on boards of companies ranging from ITV to WH Smith, was appointed as chair of the Post Office in December 2022, but was dismissed by Ms Badenoch, who said last month that “new leadership” was needed to tackle the scandal.

But in an interview with the Sunday Times, the former chair said he was told by a senior civil servant to slow down compensation payments to postmasters.

“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,” he told the paper.

“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 Post Office has been asked if the note that Mr Staunton claims he files exists on its servers.

Mr Staunton also said that when he was sacked, Ms Badenoch had told him: “Someone’s got to take the rap.”

The government has denied the claims about delaying compensation and in a lengthy social media post, Ms Badenoch hit back at Mr Staunton, calling his comments a “disgraceful misrepresentation of my conversation with him and the reasons for his dismissal”.

“Far from ‘taking the rap’, I dismissed Staunton due to very serious allegations about his conduct while chair of the Post Office, including blocking an investigation into that conduct,” she said.

Ms Badenoch said she would make a statement on Monday “telling the truth”.

Following the backlash to his interview, Mr Staunton said on Monday that it was in the “interest of the business, as well as being fair for the postmasters, for there to be faster progress on exoneration, and that compensation was more generous, but we didn’t see any real movement until after the Mr Bates programme”.

“I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone what was really going on,” he added.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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