What is Ed Davey's connection to the Post Office Horizon scandal?

Sir Ed Davey's role as postal affairs minister is coming back to haunt him as he faces accusations of 'fobbing off' victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey during a rally in Guildford, as he unveils a new campaign poster vowing to
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey is facing questions over his former role as postal affairs minister. (Alamy)

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey is in the hot seat over his handling of the Post Office Horizon scandal during his time as a government minister.

Correspondence published by The Sunday Times shows how sub-postmaster Alan Bates grew increasingly frustrated as he wrote to ministers from three successive governments over the issue.

This included Ed Davey, who served as postal affairs minister between May 2010 and February 2012 under the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition government. Bates said Davey's response to his concerns were not only "disappointing", but "offensive" too.

Campaigning over the scandal, which saw 700 Royal Mail staff members prosecuted between 2000 and 2014 based on incorrect information on the service's computer system, has been running for several years now. However, ITV's recent drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office has thrust the issue back into the spotlight, with a petition to strip the postal service's former boss of her CBE passing 1.2 million.

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With Ed Davey's record during the scandal also being brought into scrutiny, here's what we know about his role at the time.

Why is Ed Davey under pressure?

Ed Davey is facing questions over his role as postal affairs minister at a time when concerns were being raised over postmasters being wrongly incriminated due to errors by Horizon, a Post Office computer accounting system created by Fujitsu.

In a letter in May 2010, Bates urged Davey to intervene and push for an independent external investigation, The Sunday Times reported. He said: "The evidence is there to be found by anyone in a position of being able to unlock doors instead of placing barriers in the way of those pursuing the information."

Responding bluntly, Davey said the integrity of the Horizon system is a matter for Post Office Ltd and not the government. He added: "Whilst I do appreciate your concerns... I do not believe a meeting would serve any useful purpose."


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Alan Bates, as portrayed by Toby Jones in ITV1's Mr Bates Vs the Post Office. (ITV)

Taken aback, Bates wrote back claiming that Davey's "arm's length" approach had enabled the Post Office to "carry on with impunity regardless of the human misery and suffering they inflict". He added: "You can meet with us and hear the real truth behind Horizon."

The Sunday Times reported that the pair met after this exchange, but when Bates subsequently wrote back to warn Davey of "yet another victim", the minister said he "made clear in the meeting" that neither he nor the Department for Business could step in before a legal judgement had been reached.

What backlash has Davey received?

Davey, and the Lib Dems in general, have been accused of "fobbing off the victims of Post Office miscarriages of justice" by SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who added: "With government comes responsibility."

She said that successive Conservative governments "shouldn't be off the hook", adding that it "falls on them to finally sort this out".

Speaking to GB News on Sunday, former BBC chief political correspondent John Sergeant suggested the Liberal Democrat leader's position was "crumbling" as a result of the scandal, adding: "I think it will come up time and time again, the role that he played."

The veteran journalist said that having attempted to palm the issue off as a Post Office matter, independent of any ministerial responsibility, Davey's position "completely crumbles" now that the government has conceded it has to pay compensation to victims.

Raising questions for Davey on Times Radio, Bates said: "I'd quite like to know how much briefing did Post Office executives do to him beforehand to steer him away from meeting with ourselves? What was said at that time? Why didn't he meet with us?"

Former Post Office Chief Executive Paula Vennells pictured during her tenure with the company from 2012 to 2019. (PA Images)
Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells has handed back her CBE after days of intense public pressure. (PA)

How has Davey responded?

Responding to Bates's question, Ed Davey told Times Radio: "I regret not doing more. I feel, to be honest with you, I was deeply misled by Post Office executives. Alan is right to raise the point – they didn't come clean, and there were definitely attempts to stop me meeting them and I regret that we didn't do more, but we were clearly misled."

Asked about Post Office executives, Davey said: "Now they're dragging their feet, they're not bringing forward evidence to the inquiry and that is just outrageous given that there are postal masters getting older, some are even passing away sadly."

Davey said there were people "down the chain" from the chief executive who were "trying to prevent ministers and the wider public from knowing what was going on". He added: "I think they probably kept a lot of facts away from officials as well in the department."

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said: "Ed's heart goes out to the families caught up in this scandal and his focus is on getting justice and compensation for those impacted. Not realising that the Post Office was lying on an industrial scale is a huge regret. Ed will fully cooperate with the inquiry to get to the bottom of what went wrong."