Post Office chief executive subject of 80-page HR investigation, ex-chairman claims

By John Mercury February 28, 2024

The ousted Post Office chairman has insisted it was the company’s current chief executive who was the subject of an internal investigation, not him.

Former chair Henry Staunton was dismissed last month by business secretary Kemi Badenoch who said bullying accusations had been made against him.

But on Tuesday, Mr Staunton told MPs on the Business and Trade Committee that it was the CEO Nick Read who was being investigated.

Politics latest: Ex-chair stuns MPs with CEO claim

Mr Staunton said the Post Office boss “fell out” with the business’s [human resources] HR director and said that his own behaviour was only referenced once in an 80-page document about Mr Read.

The ex-chairman said there was one paragraph in the report on alleged politically incorrect remarks made by him and he “strenuously denied” the claim.

“This was a big investigation into Nick. And I didn’t realise you weren’t aware of that,” he told the MPs.

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Asked if he was informed his behaviour was under investigation in November last year, Mr Staunton said: “What there is, actually, is Mr Read fell out with his HR director and she produced a ‘speak up’ document which was 80 pages thick.

“Within that, was one paragraph… about comments that I allegedly made. So this is an investigation, not into me, this is an investigation made into the chief executive Nick Read.

“That one paragraph you could say was about politically incorrect comments attributed to me which I strenuously deny.”

Nick Read, the Post Office chief
Post Office chief executive Nick Read

Downing Street has said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confidence in Mr Read following Mr Staunton’s claims.

Ben Tidswell, the senior independent director on the Post Office board, responded in an email to colleagues: “Like many of you, I know that Nick Read has at times felt the weight of Post Office’s awful history on his shoulders.

“It is no surprise, and is entirely appropriate, that he will have discussed this, in confidence, with the former chairman.

“However, to my knowledge he has never tendered his resignation and he continues to accept leadership responsibility for the challenges that we are all working on each day.

“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.”

Read more:
Who is Henry Staunton, the City grandee who took on Kemi Badenoch?
‘Dead duck’ Post Office should be sold to Amazon for £1, says campaigner Alan Bates
Post Office scandal: Bill to compensate victims will be more than £1bn

Also at the committee hearing, Mr Staunton reiterated claims he made in an interview with the Sunday Times that he was told by a senior civil servant, Sarah Munby, to go slow in processing sub-postmaster compensation claims over the Horizon IT scandal in the run-up to the general election.

In response to the note Ms Munby produced of the meeting, Mr Staunton said it wasn’t contemporaneous and that his email record, sent to Mr Read at the time and subsequently sent to journalists, was true.

“It is written a year and a month after my file note. So it’s not a contemporary file note by any means. It’s written with the purpose of answering this point.”

He also refuted claims made earlier in the hearing that he was disrupting an investigation and did not cooperate.

The focus of attention should be on justice for sub-postmasters, he added.

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Kemi Badenoch was asked in January – why sack Post Office chair after a year?

Mr Staunton said: “This should all be about the postmasters and their families and how their lives have been wrecked.

“That’s what all of this should be about and nothing else. The rest is just flimflam.”

The Horizon scandal saw more than 700 subpostmasters prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon software system made it look as though money was missing from their branches.

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

Earlier in the day, a senior official at the Department of Business and Trade, Carl Creswell, said he had been told that other Post Office board members would resign should Mr Staunton not be removed. “I was told that explicitly,” he said.

He said there were two main allegations which influenced Mr Staunton’s removal, first that he had tried to stop a whistleblowing investigation into his conduct and the second that he was “trying to stop” the process to recruit a new board member.


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