Kemi Badenoch hits out at ‘disgraceful’ claims by former Post Office chair

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UK business secretary Kemi Badenoch has lashed out at “disgraceful” claims by former Post Office chair Henry Staunton that he was officially advised to defer payments to wrongly accused postmasters, describing his comments as a “blatant attempt to seek revenge after a dismissal”.

In an excoriating and highly unusual attack by a minister on a high-profile business figure, Badenoch said on Monday that Staunton had made “wild, baseless allegations” over the government’s handling of the Horizon IT scandal.

Staunton said on Sunday he was summarily fired from his role last month by Badenoch, whom he alleged said “someone’s got to take the rap” for the scandal that led to the wrongful prosecution of hundreds of postmasters.

Formerly chair of stationery retailer WHSmith, Staunton also claimed in an interview with the Sunday Times he was told by a civil servant to stall compensation payments to Horizon victims so that the government would be able to “limp into the election” without huge payouts to fulfil.

In a statement in the House of Commons, Badenoch said she had dismissed Staunton “because there were serious concerns about his behaviour as chair”, noting allegations he had attempted to bypass a public appointment process and that serious claims were raised about “bullying”.

She also said there was “no evidence whatsoever” that Staunton was told to stall on payments to postmasters, branding the allegation a “disgrace”.

More than 900 sub-postmasters were convicted in cases involving data from Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon IT system following its introduction in 1999, including more than 700 brought by the Post Office itself.

Thousands more postmasters were affected after they were pursued for account shortfalls, while the government has to date paid out at least £138mn of the £1bn it has set aside for compensation. Many of the victims are still awaiting compensation offers.

Jonathan Reynolds, shadow business secretary, called for a Cabinet Office investigation into the claims made by Staunton, and for all correspondence between her department and the Post Office on the topic to be published.

Reynolds said faith in government had been rocked by scandals such as Bloody Sunday and the Windrush affair, and that Staunton’s comments would cause further concern, including to victims of the contaminated blood scandal.

The government has been accused of dragging its feet over that scandal — in which tens of thousands of people were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through tainted blood transfusions — but is expected to set out details of a final, massive compensation scheme for victims in the coming weeks.

Badenoch said her department would publish a readout of the conversation she held with Staunton when he was dismissed, and would “consider” publication of correspondence between the government and Staunton under Freedom of Information rules.

She said she would not publish correspondence between her department and the Post Office, which was subject to the continuing Horizon public inquiry.

Staunton described governance at the Post Office during his tenure as “shocking”, and said the compensation schemes set up to offer financial redress to wrongly convicted postmasters seemed “terribly bureaucratic”, “unhelpful” and “unsympathetic”. 

Staunton added that he believed the Post Office still presided over a culture that presumed many postmasters accused of theft were guilty, and that the government should offer wronged individuals £1mn each in compensation.

On Sunday, Badenoch posted on X a letter sent by Sarah Munby, then permanent secretary at the business department, stating that one of Staunton’s main priorities should be “engaging positively with the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry . . . including resolving historical litigation issues . . . and reaching settlements with claimants”.

Downing Street declined to say whether Badenoch had shown Prime Minister Rishi Sunak an official account of her conversation with Staunton last month, in which she sacked him, and denied Staunton had been told to stall compensation payments to postmasters. 

“We refute the allegations he made,” said Number 10, adding that Staunton was sacked over “serious concerns around his conduct and his ability to deliver justice to postmasters”.

“For the government’s part, we acted to speed up compensation for victims,” it said, adding that Badenoch had been clear that Staunton’s account of their conversation was “a misrepresentation”.

Staunton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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