Henry Staunton: Ex-Post Office chair escalates compensation row

Henry Staunton has released a note of a call with a senior official, amid a row over Horizon payouts.
Henry Staunton: Ex-Post Office chair escalates compensation row
Henry Staunton

The former Post Office chairman has claimed he was told to “hobble” into the next election without solving the company’s long-term problems.

Henry Staunton, who was sacked last month, said the comment was made by a senior civil servant during a meeting last year.

It comes amid an escalating row over his previous claim he was told to delay Horizon compensation payments for sub-postmasters.

This has been rejected by ministers.

On Monday, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch denied he had been told to stall payments, saying there was “no evidence” to support the claim.

Mr Staunton was dismissed last month, amid ongoing tensions around the Horizon IT scandal, in which hundreds of sub-postmasters were prosecuted after faults in the Horizon software made it look like they were stealing money.

As part of his role, to which he was appointed in December 2022, Mr Staunton was tasked with righting the wrongs of the long-running saga, which was thrust into the spotlight early in the new year by a hit ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

After his dismissal, he told the Sunday Times: “I was told by a fairly senior person to stall on spending 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.”

This has been angrily rejected by Ms Badenoch, who has insisted the government – which makes compensation payments – has done “everything it can” to speed up payments to those wrongfully prosecuted.

With the row over his departure deepening, Mr Staunton has now disclosed a memo of an introductory meeting he had in January last year with Sarah Munby, then the most senior civil servant at the business department.

In the note, first published by the Times and seen by the BBC, he recorded that Ms Munby had told him she understood the “huge commercial challenge” of the financial position facing the Post Office.

But she warned him that “politicians do not necessarily like to confront reality,” and there was no appetite to “rip off the band aid” regarding the Post Office’s finances.

His note records her telling him that “now was not the time for dealing with long term issues”, with the Post Office instead needing to work out how to “hobble” to the election.

Mr Staunton’s note does not include the word “limp” – and appears to have been broader than merely discussing compensation for the sub-postmasters.

The Times said Ms Munby was understood to categorically deny telling Mr Staunton to stall on compensation payments. The business department has been contacted for a comment.

A government source said: “The long-standing issues around Post Offices finances are a matter of public record and do not include postmaster compensation which is being fully funded by the government. Henry Staunton is either confused or deliberately mixing up the two issues.”

Source: bbc.co.uk

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