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Henry Staunton: Former Post Office chairman stands by compensation claims | Politics News

Former Post Office chairman Henry Staunton said it is “pretty obvious what was really going on” after the government refuted his claims that he was told to stall compensation to Horizon scandal victims.

In a new statement issued to Sky News, Mr Staunton insisted there was “no real movement” on the payouts until after the airing of ITV drama Mr Bates Vs the Post Office earlier this year.

He said: “It was in the interests of the business as well as being fair for the postmasters that there was 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 is pretty obvious to everyone what was really going on.”

It comes as the government is facing demands to release all documents relating to Mr Staunton’s sacking to provide clarity on the allegations.

A war of words broke out on Sunday after Mr Staunton claimed that when he was sacked last month, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch had told him “someone’s got to take the rap” for the Post Office scandal.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, he also claimed he was told to delay pay-outs to subpostmasters ahead of the next general election due to concerns about costs.

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The government denied the compensation claims, while Ms Badenoch wrote on X that Mr Staunton’s comments were a “disgraceful misrepresentation” of their conversation when he was sacked.

The business department also published a letter sent to Mr Staunton after his appointment which said one of his priorities should be to resolve historic litigation issues relating to the Horizon software.

However, Labour said the allegations were “truly shocking” and there are “clear discrepancies” in the accounts of Mr Staunton’s short time as chairman.

Mr Staunton only became chairman of the Post Office in December 2022, but he was ousted last month as the government reeled from the backlash of its handling of the Horizon scandal.

Henry Staunton
Henry Staunton

This saw hundreds of subpostmasters prosecuted because of discrepancies in the Horizon IT system between 1999 and 2015, in what has been called the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history.

The airing of Mr Bates Vs the Post Office last month led to widespread outrage and promises from the government to introduce a new law to exonerate all victims and speed up the compensation process.

In a letter to Ms Badenoch on Monday, shadow business secretary Jonathon Reynolds said in order to “truly ascertain the veracity” of Mr Staunton’s allegations, she should publish all correspondence and minutes of meetings between her department and the Post Office since the High Court’s 2019 ruling that there had been bugs and errors in the IT system.

He also asked Ms Badenoch to explicitly confirm whether any civil servant told Mr Staunton to stall on compensation payments so the government could “limp into the election” with the lowest possible financial liability.

Mr Staunton claimed he received this direction from a senior figure in Whitehall, but a spokesman for the government said on Sunday it “utterly” refuted the claim and Mr Staunton was in fact given “concrete objectives” to focus on reaching settlements.

Kemi Badenoch MP denies she is in an 'evil plotters' Whatsapp group
Kemi Badenoch

Government ‘focused on compensation’

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake has also told Sky News he “does not recognise” claims of trying to slow down compensation.

He said: “We’ve been very focused on getting that compensation out the door as quickly as possible.

“We’ve done much to try and accelerate those payments over the time Henry Staunton was in office so I don’t recognise what he’s saying and I’m bit confused why he’s saying it.”

He added that he was not on the call when Mr Staunton was sacked but Ms Badenoch has been “very clear that the version of events that she read in the paper was nothing like the version that she had from the notes that were taken on that call”.

“Clearly, Henry Staunton sees it differently. You’d have to ask him why he’s saying those things. It doesn’t accord with the situation as I see it.”

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Why sack Post Office chair after a year?

In his interview, Mr Staunton also alleged that Post Office chief executive Nick Read wrote to the government 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.

In his letter Mr Reynolds said: “Prior to yesterday, it was my profound belief that every MP and everyone in Westminster was working on the commons goals to exonerate all remaining wrongful convictions and deliver fair compensation to all those affected as quickly as possible. If true, these revelations completely undermine that notion.

“If there is even the slightest truth to accusations that justice has been obfuscated for political reasons, there must be consequences. I hope that you will do everything in your gift to provide subpostmasters with the confidences they need to know that this was not the case.”

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Post Office scandal explained

The call was echoed by the Liberal Democrats, who said the government “must be fully transparent and publish any documents relating to these extremely serious allegations”.

Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney said: “Ministers have been dragging their feet over getting victims swift and fair compensation for far too long. Political game playing should have absolutely no role in trying to right this wrong, we need to get the victims of this scandal the justice and compensation they deserve.”

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