Kemi Badenoch accuses the sacked Post Office chair Henry Staunton of lying

Kemi Badenoch accused the sacked Post Office chair Henry Staunton of lying. Credit: PA

The dispute between Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, and the chair of the post office she sacked, Henry Staunton, is both complicated and very simple.

The simple version is that she has accused him of lying about why he was sacked, and in his claim that a civil servant told him to go slow on making compensation payments to wrongly convicted sub-postmasters.

How he responds to her serious accusations of corporate misconduct will determine the future of each.That may be all you need to know. But if you want the nuance and detail, read on.Item One is a note she has just published that was taken by a government official of her conversation with Staunton on 27 January, when she informed him that she was sacking him as Post Office chairman after just a year in the job.This, and her statement to MPs today, follows her furious response on Sunday to an interview he had given in the Sunday Times, in which he alleged she told him "someone has to take the rap" for the national outcry over the wrongful prosecutions of sub-postmasters - an outcry occasioned by ITV's drama Mr Bates versus the Post Office - and that person was him.Today, she said Mr Staunton had "chosen to spread a series of falsehoods, provide made-up anecdotes to journalists and leak discussions held in confidence". She accused him of "a blatant attempt to seek revenge following dismissal".But the note of her conversation with him to inform him of his dismissal is odd, to put it mildly, and does not answer all the questions he has posed.First it records her asking Mr Staunton's advice on how to change the Post Office for the better, and he is recorded as calling for a greater voice for and influence on behalf of sub-postmasters.And then she says "she received a briefing on the governance issues at the Post Office and that the complaints against HS [Henry Staunton] are so serious that the government needs to intervene".Or to put it another way, she is recorded as both asking for his advice on the most pressing issues facing the Post Office and also telling him that he is discredited.She published the note in the hope it undermines his charge that she made him a scapegoat to protect herself and her officials. But it may open another can of worms.For what it's worth, Staunton does not believe the governance complaints against him were "so serious".There was an 80-page review into the governance of the Post Office by an outgoing HR official. In it, the HR official alleges that Staunton inappropriately referred to a female colleague as a "girl". He denies it, though the gravity of the charge is impossible to assess in the absence of context.Staunton does not accept that the complaints against him were such as to make his continuation in post unsustainable - though in the Commons today Ms Badenoch referred to unsubstantiated bullying complaints against him.She also accused him of riding roughshod over best practice when trying to appoint a new senior executive director, or SID, to the Post Office board. He denies this, claiming the board was keen to install in that post an existing non-executive who had the confidence of his colleagues.At the heart of this tension appears to be a disagreement between Staunton and UK Government Investments, or UKGI, a company owned by the government that is the steward of state-owned businesses such as the Post Office. It apparently wanted the new SID to be someone who had its approval.The business secretary also says she can find no evidence of Staunton's central charge, namely that shortly after being appointed at the end of 2022 he'd been told by a "fairly senior person" - a civil servant, not a minister - to "stall on spend" on compensation for sub-postmasters and to "limp into the election".However she admitted to MPs that this was hard to disprove beyond doubt and implicitly called on Mr Staunton to furnish his evidence - though she doubted its existence, and said it was a "disgrace" that he was suggesting that payments to sub-postmasters were being dragged out longer than necessary.My understanding is that he is shocked and surprised that the business secretary has reacted as though he was attacking her personally, because he was trying to shine a light on the actions of UKGI rather than on her actions.Mr Staunton's claim that he was told not to rush into handing out compensation to wrongly charged sub-postmasters was directed at that agency, which he believes was under instruction from HM Treasury to save public money.He also claimed that UKGI, for a similar motive - and in the wake of the furore caused by ITV's drama - instructed the chief executive of the Post Office, Nick Read, to write a letter to the Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk, to explain that the reason so few sub-postmasters had come forward was because they were "guilty as charged". As I understand it, Mr Read did write the letter.I've asked the Post Office to explain why Mr Read wrote this, and have inquired of the Lord Chancellor what he made of the letter. Neither have responded.The ball is now firmly with Mr Staunton. Ms Badenoch has called him a liar. And his response will, as I said, have an impact on both their reputations.

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