Government rejects claim Post Office compensation stalled ahead of election

The Government has denied claims by the former Post Office chairman that he was told by a senior civil servant to “stall” spending on compensation to subpostmasters ahead of the next general election.

Henry Staunton left the role last month after Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said there was a need for “new leadership” to fully address the Horizon IT scandal that saw hundreds of former Post Office employees wrongfully prosecuted.

Mr Staunton, who took up the role in December 2022 following nine years as chairman of WH Smith, suggested that the alleged request was linked to concerns about the cost of compensation heading into the election.

Cabinet meeting
Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch (James Manning/PA)

“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.”

The scandal has been pushed into the public eye by a major ITV drama into the long legal fight by subpostmasters to get justice.

But many, including leading campaigner Alan Bates, have complained about unnecessary delays to victims in receiving compensation.

A Government spokesperson said: “We utterly refute these allegations.

“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.”

More than 700 branch managers were prosecuted by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 after faulty Horizon accounting software made it look as though money was missing from their shops.

Hundreds of subpostmasters and subpostmistresses are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also announced blanket legislation to exonerate those wrongly prosecuted in the wake of public outcry.

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