Post Office scandal: What did we learn from a day of evidence?

Former Post Office chairman Henry Staunton once again denied he had lied about being told to stall on compensation payments, and said he has 'spoken up on genuine matters of public concern'. ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reports

Words by Maya Bowles, ITV Westminster Producer

MPs have been quizzing the current and former Post Office bosses, along with former sub-postmaster Alan Bates, about the Horizon scandal and progress on compensation.

Pressure has been mounting on the government and the Post Office to fully compensate sub-postmasters since the airing of ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office in January.

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.

But what did we learn from today's evidence?

Henry Staunton: 'subject to a smear campaign'

Henry Staunton was the chair of the Post Office from December 2022, until he was sacked by Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch last month.

After Mr Staunton claimed he had been told by a civil servant to go slow on compensation payments ahead of the election, Ms Badenoch said he was lying and that his comments were "a blatant attempt to seek revenge" for being sacked.

In a statement he read out to MPs on Tuesday, Mr Staunton said he's been the victim of a "smear campaign" by the government because he's "spoken up on matters of genuine public concern".

When asked about how it felt to be called a liar by a senior politician, Mr Staunton said: "I don't want to blow my own trumpet, but I've been the chairman of four big companies."

"What I have done is stand up for the postmasters", he said.

Ms Badenoch said last week that Mr Staunton was being investigated over "bullying allegations" before his dismissal.

But MPs on the committee responded with confusion when Mr Staunton alleged that current CEO Nick Read is the focus of a misconduct inquiry, not him.

Mr Staunton said Mr Read's HR director produced an "80-page report" detailing complaints against Mr Read, and that "one paragraph was about comments that I allegedly made", which he said were politically incorrect comments he "strenuously" denies.

Jonathan Gullis MP said this new revelation showed the investigations about who said what "were starting to look like a complete and utter shambles".

Mr Gullis joked that there would be a new ITV drama called 'Mr Staunton and Mr Read vs the Post Office'.

A source close to Kemi Badenoch said: “Henry Staunton has been nothing but a distraction against our work to get justice and compensation to the postmasters. Now he tries to deflect the focus onto Nick Read.

“He and Read were being investigated. But while Read cooperated, Staunton tried to block his investigation. As was said in the committee, Board members were going to resign. And still no one has corroborated his story.”

Ms Badenoch is currently at a conference in Abu Dhabi, but issued a letter to the chair of the business committee Liam Byrne in which she doubles down on her position against Mr Staunton.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant", she says, before laying out a number of rebuttals against Mr Staunton's claims.

ITV News has contacted The Post Office for comment on the investigation into Nick Read.

Alan Bates: 'get on and pay people'

Former sub-postmaster Alan Bates whose story was at the centre of the ITV drama gave evidence on Monday alongside former sub-postmasters Tony Downey and Tim Brentnall.

Mr Bates urged the Post Office to just "get on and pay people" in his evidence to MPs on the committee.

"It's not about words, it's about deeds", he said.

The former sub-postmaster told MPs he was unhappy with the speed of compensation.

When asked if the redress was getting faster and fairer, Mr Bates said "speaking personally of my claim, I can say no, it isn't."

Earlier this month Mr Bates rejected what he called a "paltry" compensation offer from the government, which he said was around a sixth of what he asked for.

Mr Bates also said the Post Office was "a dead duck" and should be "sold to Amazon for £1".

Nick Read: 'It won't be changed overnight, but we've made progress'

Nick Read is the current CEO of the Post Office, and has been since 2019.

Liam Byrne MP, the chair of the select committee, asked Mr Read why only "20 per cent" of the Post Office's budget for redress "has been paid out".

Mr Read told the committee chair he has not had a conversation with the business secretary about accelerating the compensation scheme.

When asked if he had received written instructions from the government to speed up the compensation, Mr Read said: "I don't think I've got written instructions but these are the conversations clearly we would have with the department on a regular basis."

Mr Byrne responded by saying: "I think the committee's pretty surprised you've not had written instructions to speed up the resolution of redress in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history."

Comments by Mr Read sparked fury from sub-postmasters last week when he said he would uphold over half of the Horizon scandal convictions, in a letter to the justice secretary.

Mr Read said the Post Office would be "bound to oppose an appeal" in at least 369 of the 700 cases it had prosecuted.

His comments came after the minister for the Post Office admitted their new legislation to exonerate sub-postmasters will also clear the names of people "who were, in fact, guilty of a crime".

Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis referenced the letter at the committee on Tuesday, saying he found it "extraordinary" that "even under new leadership victims are still treated with caution and suspicion, which is maybe not going to lead to other coming forward".

When asked about the letter by Mr Gullis, Mr Read denied the letter showed the Post Office wanted to block the mass exoneration law - saying he was just making sure the government had all the available information before it legislated.

Mr Read also insisted the culture of the Post Office is changing after Alan Bates said it "will not change".

"I think we've made a lot of progress, certainly since 2019... don't get me wrong, this is a scandal... it won't be changed overnight, but we've made progress".

Ben Tidswell, Senior Independent Director on the Post Office Board told colleagues in a letter seen by ITV News that Mr Reid "has at times felt the weight of Post Office’s awful history on his shoulders."

He added: Post Office has received a complaint against a number of people within the organisation – Nick is one of those employees – and I am sure you will all agree that Post Office should investigate every complaint with due process.

"Nick accepts this and has cooperated fully with the investigation."

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

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