Badenoch accuses former Post Office boss of lying in Horizon row

Kemi Badenoch said she would make a statement on Monday 'telling the truth' about what had happened
Kemi Badenoch said she would make a statement on Monday 'telling the truth' about what had happened - Anadolu

The Business Secretary has accused the former chairman of the Post Office of lying in a row over the handling of the Horizon scandal.

Kemi Badenoch launched the attack on Henry Staunton on Sunday after he claimed in an interview that he had been told by a senior government official to slow down the payment of compensation for sub-postmasters to allow the Tories to “limp into”  the next election.

Mrs Badenoch, who sacked him as chairman last month, said his comments were “full of lies” and accused him of failing to get justice for postmasters.

In a series of messages on X, formerly known as Twitter, she revealed there had been allegations about his conduct by whistleblowers and suggested that he had misrepresented his conversations with her.

She said she would make a statement on Monday “telling the truth” about what had happened.

More than 4,000 people have been told they will be eligible for compensation as a result of the Post Office Horizon scandal.

Errors in Horizon software made by Fujitsu, the Japanese technology company, caused shortfalls to be recorded which did not exist. More than 900 sub-postmasters were prosecuted after they were blamed for the shortfalls and some served time in prison as a result.

The Government has been repeatedly criticised for its treatment of sub-postmasters, some of whom have never received any compensation from the three government schemes, despite their lives being ruined.

After the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office aired earlier this year, the Government announced legislation that would swiftly exonerate all sub-postmasters who were wrongly convicted.

Mr Staunton told the Sunday Times that the request from a civil servant to slow the payment of compensation came soon after he became Post Office chairman in December 2022.

Henry Staunton was removed as the Post Office chairman weeks after the ITV outcry about sub-postmasters
Henry Staunton was removed as the Post Office chairman by Mrs Badenoch

The former chairman of WH Smith claimed the order to stall payments seemed to be an attempt by the Government to reduce its financial liability before the country went to the polls.

He added that the demand came from a senior civil servant in the Department for Business and International Trade, which oversees the Post Office.

The 75-year-old said: “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.

“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 word ‘limp’ gives you a snapshot of where they were.”

He also claimed that when Mrs Badenoch contacted him to sack him, she told him “well, someone’s got to take the rap for this”.

‘Disgraceful representation’

But on Sunday afternoon, Mrs Badenoch, who is tipped to be a future Tory leader, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the interview was a “disgraceful misrepresentation of my conversation with him and the reasons for his dismissal”.

She said: “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. My department is responsible for whistleblowers and I wouldn’t ignore the allegations.

“My call with Staunton was with officials. They took a complete record.

“He has given an interview full of lies about our conversation during his dismissal. The details will emerge soon enough as I won’t let the matter rest here, but will be discussing with government lawyers.

“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.

“That he chose to run to the media with made-up anecdotes and a series of falsehoods confirms I made the correct decision…

“We will make a statement tomorrow telling the truth about what’s been happening.”

The Telegraph understands that he was removed after the Government was informed that Mr Staunton was allegedly blocking whistleblowers concerned about his approach to delivering justice for the postmasters.

A source at the Department for Business said: “The evidence against Staunton was such that ministers had to act.

‘The truth will out’

“But Kemi chose not to mention the allegations out of concern for his reputation. Now we see what happens when ministers take the tough decisions and sack people who need to be sacked – they run to the media and brief against them. The truth will out.”

Mr Staunton has suggested that he thinks each of the wronged sub-postmasters should be offered £1 million.

While almost £140 million of compensation has been paid out, many sub-postmasters are experiencing delays and maintain that the schemes are too bureaucratic.

Mr Staunton also claimed in his interview that the Post Office still employed more than 40 investigators involved in the wrongful prosecution of sub-postmasters. He said these investigators are known as “the untouchables” inside the organisation because of the power they wield.

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.

Alan Bates' campaign to secure justice for sub-postmasters was portrayed in ITV drama
Alan Bates's campaign to secure justice for sub-postmasters was portrayed in an ITV drama - PA/Sam Tobin

Alan Bates, whose campaign to secure justice for the sub-postmasters was portrayed in the ITV drama series, told The Sunday Times: “It has long been evident that the Government, despite all its fine words, is doing everything possible to slow or stall payments in the [group litigation order] scheme, because in reality that is what is happening.

“These schemes need taking out of government hands and I am sure there are numerous commercial organisations that could deliver fair and swift financial redress to the victims in no time at all.”

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

“The secretary of state asked Henry Staunton to step down as chairman of the Post Office because a change in leadership was needed.”