Post Office under pressure to hand over memo to 'slow down' compensation

Henry Staunton, the former Post Office chairman,  appearing before the Commons business and trade committee
Henry Staunton, the former Post Office chairman, appearing before the Commons business and trade committee

The Post Office is under pressure to provide evidence of claims that its former chairman was told to slow down on compensation payments to sub-postmasters.

‌The Commons business and trade select committee has demanded Henry Staunton produce a copy of a note he said he sent to record his claim.

‌The Telegraph understands that Mr Staunton no longer has the note as it was on his Post Office email account.

‌However, he sent it to Nick Read, the chief executive – raising the prospect that the Post Office could be asked to hand the email over.

‌It was also reported on Monday that David Cameron’s government knew the Post Office dropped a probe that may have helped wrongly-accused sub-postmasters prove there were flaws in the Horizon accounting software.

Ministers were aware that a secret investigation was being carried out in 2016 to look into why branch managers’ cash accounts had been accessed and changed remotely, according to the BBC.

The probe was suddenly ditched after sub-postmasters launched legal action, the broadcaster reported. It comes amid a mounting row between Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, and the former Post Office chair she sacked in January.

‌She accused him in the Commons on Monday of lying over his claim that he had been told to stall payments until after the election – and she revealed he had been under investigation for bullying.

‌Liam Byrne, chairman of the business committee, said he had already invited Mr Staunton to appear before its members.

‌“Today we will be sending for the papers that we need to try and get to the truth,” he said.

‌“Crucially, we’ll be sending for that file note that Mr Staunton says that he made that sets out that go slow order that he says he received from senior civil servants in the department, but which the secretary of state professed no knowledge of yesterday.”

‌Mr Byrne said all those with relevant information – including Nick Read – should hand it over.

‌“It’s now essential that the Post Office, the Business & Trade Department and UKGI release every single document that reveals whether there was a ‘go slow’ order on payments to sub-postmasters. Bluntly, our committee will order the papers if they’re not produced voluntarily,” he said.

‌Downing Street said it would encourage the Post Office to share a note referred to by sacked former chairman Henry Staunton if it exists so that it can be investigated.

‌Mr Staunton has alleged a senior civil servant told him to stall spending on compensation for victims of the Horizon scandal to allow the Government to “limp” into the election, and said he had made a note of the alleged remark.

‌The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “If such a note exists, we obviously would encourage the Post Office to share it so it can be investigated and take any action as necessary.”‌

On Monday night, Mr Staunton revealed he had kept a record of the alleged comment from a senior civil servant.

‌A spokesman said he “recorded [it] at the time in a file note, which he emailed to himself and to colleagues and which is therefore traceable on the Post Office server”.

‌A source close to Mr Staunton said the memo had also been sent to the organisation’s chief executive.

‌“He was so flabbergasted that he sent a note to himself and copied in Nick Read,” the source said.

‌“He has lost access to that email because he was locked out of his Post Office email after he was sacked.”

‌When the Telegraph asked if Mr Read would be releasing the memo, a Post Office spokesman said: “It is not appropriate for us to comment on confidential emails that allegedly may or may not have been sent.”

‌Mr Byrne said: “I’m afraid that there is talk in Westminster about whether the department has gone slow in order to put the financial liabilities on the other side of the election, and I very much hope that’s not true.

‌“But we have got to get to the bottom of it, the Department for Business and Trade does have a budget that is under strain. So there is potentially an incentive.”

‌He said it could be true that a senior civil servant had told Mr Staunton to go slow and it could also be true that the Business Secretary did not wish that to happen.