Kemi Badenoch says ex-Post Office chair claims ‘made up’

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Ex-Post Office chair ‘seeking revenge’ – Badenoch

By Michael Race
Business reporter, BBC News

The Business Secretary, Kemi Badenoch, has said claims by the former Post Office chair that he was told to delay compensation payments for sub-postmasters are “completely false”.

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

But Ms Badenoch accused him of spreading “a series of falsehoods” and providing “made up anecdotes”.

Mr Staunton has stood by his comments.

On Monday, Ms Badenoch made a statement to the House of Commons in which she said Mr Staunton’s claims were “a blatant attempt to seek revenge following dismissal”.

“There would be no benefit to us whatsoever of us delaying compensation,” she added. “This does not have any significant impact on revenues whatsoever – it would be a mad thing to even suggest.”

She said there was “no evidence whatsoever” that Mr Staunton was told by an official to stall payouts, later adding: “Actually if such a thing was said, it is for Mr Staunton himself to bring the evidence.”

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.

One sub-postmaster said the process of claiming compensation has been “like being treated like a criminal all over again”.

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 said he filed 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.”

Henry Staunton stood down as Post Office chairman last month

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

On Monday, she told MPs the reason she dismissed Mr Staunton was “because there were serious concerns about his behaviour as chair, including those raised from other directors on the board”.

“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,” she said.

She added it was “so disappointing that he’s chosen to spread a series of falsehoods, provide made up anecdotes to journalists and leak discussions held in confidence”.

“All of this merely confirms in my mind that I made the correct decision in dismissing him,” she said.

Ms Badenoch said a copy of the readout of the phone call to dismiss Mr Staunton would be published so MPs and the public “can see the truth”.

Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said there were now “two completely contrasting accounts, one from the former chair of the Post Office and one from the secretary of state”.

“Only one of these accounts can be the truth,” he said. “What we need now is transparency and scrutiny.”

Reynolds: Faith in the government over a series of scandals is “hanging by a thread”

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.

The BBC has contacted Mr Staunton again for a response following Ms Badenoch’s statement.

Liam Byrne, Labour MP and the chair of the Business and Trade Committee, told the BBC earlier on Monday 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 drama into the scandal and thrust it back into the spotlight.

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.”

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