• By Darbail Jordan
  • Business Reporter, BBC News

February 27, 2024, 16:10 GMT

Updated 1 hour ago

image source, House of Commons/British Parliament

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Former Post Office Chairman Henry Staunton presents a redacted document to MPs on Tuesday

The Post's former chairman has shocked MPs by claiming the company's current chief executive Nick Read is under investigation.

Henry Staunton made the allegations at a hearing about compensation payments to subpostmasters at the center of the Horizon scandal.

Alan Bates, the creator of the ITV drama, told MPs the government needed to “get in and pay people”.

The Post was contacted for comment.

MPs questioned a number of key figures about the pace of financial redress for thousands of sub-postmasters.

Witnesses had told MPs earlier in the day that an internal investigation was underway into Mr Staunton over his alleged conduct as chairman of the company.

However, Mr Staunton claimed that there was in fact an investigation into Mr Read.

He also claimed that an 80-page document – a page of which he showed MPs with many lines blacked out – stated that Mr Read wanted to resign from the Post Office because he was unhappy with his salary.

The Department for Business and Trade said it was aware Mr Read was also under investigation but it had “not seen the 80-page report to which Henry Staunton refers and cannot confirm its contents”.

Downing Street also insisted it had confidence in the Post Office boss, with the Prime Minister's deputy spokesman saying: “We continue to work very closely with him.”

“At this point, it is important that everyone remains focused on ensuring we provide compensation and justice to postmasters.”

About 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the post office for theft and false accounting between 1999 and 2015 after the Horizon IT system developed by Fujitsu gave the impression that there were deficits in branch accounts.

It led to what has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

Thousands more pumped their own money into post offices to cover the discrepancies caused by Horizon.

Sub-postmasters are demanding compensation from the government, but Mr Bates said the government – which owns the post office – had failed to get to grips with the process of paying money to claimants.

“It’s very disappointing,” he said. “This has been going on for years, as you know, and I can’t imagine it ending.”

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Alan Bates speaks to reporters in Westminster on Tuesday

Mr. Staunton, who was fired as Post Office chairman in January, said the compensation process had dragged on until the airing of the drama “Mr. Bates v. the Post Office” in January slowed considerably and reignited interest in the long-running scandal.

The slow pace at which postmasters are receiving compensation could be overshadowed by a recent row between Mr Staunton and Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch.

Mr Staunton gave an interview more than a week ago and claimed he was ordered by a senior official in January last year to curb spending on compensation.

Ms Badenoch responded to the claims saying they were “completely false”. She also said she had fired Mr Staunton after “very serious allegations were made about his conduct as chairman of the Post Office”. Concerns were also raised about the process of appointing a senior independent director at the Post Office, whose role includes challenging the chairman on all issues.

Mr Staunton said on Tuesday he had been the victim of a “smear campaign” before claiming that Mr Read was at the center of an investigation into allegations made by the Post's former human resources chief. Mr Staunton claims that Mr Read and the senior HR officer “had an argument”.

The former chairman also claimed that Mr Read had attempted to resign four times during the time Mr Staunton was at the Post, between December 2022 and January 2024.

This contrasted with Mr Read's comments shortly before, when he was asked by MPs if he had ever tried to resign from the post office and replied under oath: “No. Why do you ask?”

The Department for Business and Trade said that Ms Badenoch “made it clear in her statement to the House of Commons on February 19 that she had lost confidence in Mr Staunton because of an investigation into his conduct as well as his attempt to formally formalize it.” “Process for the appointment of a new board member”.

It added: “The department will await the outcome of the investigation into Mr Read before making any further judgment.”

However, Charlotte Nichols, a Labor MP and member of the House of Commons Economic Affairs Committee, spoke harshly against Ms Badenoch on BBC Radio 4's PM program on Tuesday after the hearing.

“I find [Tuesday’s hearing] Really raises a number of questions for Kemi Badenoch, particularly as she has been typically two-footed in her denials [Mr Staunton’s] Claims when they were first made.

“I think questions remain about why memories are so different,” she added.

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