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    Post Office IT scandal: Minister denies claim that government tried to stall payouts

    (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

    Ministers have denied claims by the former Post Office chair that the government wanted to stall compensation payouts to victims of the Horizon scandal.

    Henry Staunton, who was sacked last month by the business secretary, Kemi Badenoch, amid anger over the Horizon scandal, said the request came soon after he took up the role in December 2022. He also alleged that Nick Read, the Post Office chief executive, tried in January to dissuade the government from proceeding with blanket exonerations for operators.

    In an interview with the Sunday Times, Staunton said the request to slow down compensation payouts appeared to be an attempt to reduce the government’s financial liability before the general election this year.

    “Early on, I was told by a fairly senior person to stall on spend on compensation and on the replacement of Horizon, and to limp, in quotation marks – I did a file note on it – limp into the election,” Staunton said.

    “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.”

    The government denied Staunton’s claim, saying 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.

    “The Henry Staunton Sunday Times interview is a disgraceful misrepresentation of my conversation with him and the reasons for his dismissal,” tweeted Badenoch on Sunday (18).

    Kevin Hollinrake, the minister for the Post Office, said that in his 15 months in office, he had “never encountered any resistance from ministers or officials to our objective of exonerating or fairly compensating postmasters who’ve been affected by [the] Horizon scandal”.

    Michael Tomlinson, the Home Office minister, told Times Radio that he did not “accept or recognise” Staunton’s allegations.

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

    More than 900 post office operators were prosecuted for stealing money happening due to incorrect information from the Horizon computer system, in what has been described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history.

    About £140m in compensation has been paid out so far, although many victims are experiencing delays and say the scheme is too bureaucratic as well as the amount paid out is nothing as compared to their losses.

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