Post Office scandal: Kemi Badenoch hits back at Henry Staunton

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has hit back at claims made by former Post Office chairman Henry Staunton about the reasons for his departure. Mr Staunton told the Sunday Times that when he was sacked Ms Badenoch had told him: “Someone’s got to take the rap.”

But Ms Badenoch said the comments were a “disgraceful misrepresentation” of their conversation. Mr Staunton also said he was told to delay payouts to Post Office scandal victims, which the government denies.

Hundreds of subpostmasters were prosecuted because of glitches in the Horizon IT system between 1999 and 2015 in what has been called the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history.

Mr Staunton was appointed Post Office chairman in December 2022, but left the post last month after Ms Badenoch said “new leadership” was needed to tackle the scandal.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Mr Staunton said he first heard about his sacking when he was called by Sky News. He then spoke to Ms Badenoch on the phone.

Mr Staunton also told the paper that shortly after joining the Post Office he was told by a senior civil servant to slow down the rate of compensation payments, apparently to help the government’s finances.

“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 postmastersIn a lengthy post on X, formerly Twitter, Ms Badenoch said Mr Staunton’s comments were 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.

“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,” she added.

She said that her conversation with him was carried out with officials and they took a “complete record”. A statement will be made tomorrow “telling the truth”, she added.

Earlier a spokesman for the government had said it “utterly” refuted the claims made by Mr Staunton over stalling compensation payments.

“The government has sped up compensation to victims, and consistently encouraged postmasters to come forward with their claims,” the spokesman said.

“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.”

A spokesperson for Mr Staunton told the BBC his client would be making no further comment but that he stood by the accusations made in the Sunday Times.

They also said there was no investigation into Mr Staunton. 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 subpostmasters.

“The Labour Party has called for all subpostmasters 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 Mr Staunton’s claims were “deeply disturbing” and called for ministers to explain to Parliament “exactly what has happened at the earliest opportunity”.

The slow pace of overturning convictions and making compensation payments has led some to call for a mass exoneration of those affected.

Mr Staunton told the Sunday Times that Post Office chief executive Nick Read had written to the Justice Secretary Alex Chalk with legal opinion from the Post Office’s solicitors, Peters & Peters, that in more than 300 cases convictions were supported by evidence not related to the Horizon software.

“Basically it was trying to undermine the exoneration argument,” Mr Staunton said. “It was ‘most people haven’t come forward because they are guilty as charged’ – i.e. think very carefully about exoneration.”

A spokesperson for the Post Office said it was “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,” they said.

The spokesperson added: “In no sense did the Post Office seek to persuade government against mass exoneration. We remain firmly committed to supporting faster justice and redress for victims”.

LISTEN: The extraordinary story of a decade-long battle with the Post Office, fought by their own sub-postmasters, on BBC Sounds.

Source: BBC

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