Kemi Badenoch hits out at former Post Office chairman in Horizon row

Kemi Badenoch has hit out at the former Post Office chairman after he alleged he was told by a senior civil servant to “stall” spending on compensation to subpostmasters ahead of the next general election.

Henry Staunton, who was sacked by the Business Secretary last month, used an interview with the Sunday Times to suggest that the alleged request was linked to concerns about the cost of compensation heading into the election.

He also told the paper that Ms Badenoch told him that “someone’s got to take the rap” for the Horizon scandal and that he discovered his sacking following a phone call from Sky News.

The claims prompted an immediate and strongly worded denial from the Government, with Ms Badenoch also using social media to accuse the former chairman of “disgraceful misrepresentation” of the reasons he was ousted.

“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.”

Cabinet meeting
Michael Tomlinson firmly denied Mr Staunton’s claim (Victoria Jones/PA)

“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.”

She said her call with Mr Staunton “was with officials” who 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,” she said.

Ms Badenoch is expected to make a Commons statement about the matter on Monday.

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.

“I don’t accept or recognise that.

“We are encouraging postmasters to come forward. We have brought legislation through the House of Commons which will enable those payments to be made, and that is something that we are encouraging rather than anything.

“I just don’t recognise anything to the contrary of that,” he told Times Radio.

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.”

CBI conference
Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said that ‘under no circumstances’ should compensation for subpostmasters and subpostmistresses be delayed (Aaron Chown/PA)

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.

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “The Horizon scandal is widely accepted to be one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British history.

“Under no circumstances should compensation to victims be delayed and to do so for party political purposes would be a further insult to sub-postmasters.

“The Labour Party has called for all sub-postmasters to be exonerated and compensation paid swiftly so that victims can begin to draw this awful chapter to a close.

That call was echoed by Labour’s Kevan Jones, a long-time campaigner on behalf of subpostmasters, who called on Ms Badenoch to face MPs’ questions “instead of governing by social media”.

“This is not about playing party politics – it is about holding the Government to account,” he said on social media.

The Post Office and the UK Government Investments (UKGI) body also rejected any suggestion that either organisation had opposed a blanket exoneration for subpostmasters, after other claims by Mr Staunton to the newspaper.

A spokesman said: “Post Office is very aware of the terrible impact from this appalling scandal and miscarriage of justice.

“We refute both the assertions put to us and the words and phrases allegedly used, and are focused on supporting the Government’s plans for faster justice and redress for victims, as well as helping the inquiry get to the truth of what happened.

“In no sense did Post Office seek to persuade Government against mass exoneration, we remain firmly committed to supporting faster justice and redress for victims.”

A UKGI spokesman said: “We strongly refute the claims levelled by Mr Staunton, both in the facts presented and the suggestions made as to UKGI’s overall role.”

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