Of the sloping-shouldered former Post Office Chairman, Henry Staunton, whose interview is the lead story in today’s Sunday Times. There is much of interest in it, but this detail stuck out:

Early on, I was told by a fairly senior person to stall on spending 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,” he said. “It was not an anti-postmaster thing, it was just straight financials.”

Something marvellously catty about the reference to a “fairly” senior person. Who’d now want to out themselves as only “fairly senior” in order to disprove this, on the face of it, damning allegation?

Worth reading the whole interview as an example of someone trying to present themselves as a heroic whistleblower, ground down by the CEO, the Business Department, UKGI, everyone who should have behaved better and then summarily sacked as a scapegoat by a Minister he had not even met. It makes one want to weep – with laughter really – when one remembers that he was a well-paid Chairman of the Post Office, not some hapless passer-by wringing his hands at the scene of an accident wondering why no-one was doing anything. He says he was approached by headhunters to do this job. (Where do they get them from? A list on a pinboard in David Cameron’s shepherds’ hut?) Despite his claim that he heroically gave up his golf, tennis and “place in Cornwall” (the oh so predictable hobbies of the over-monied English classes) wanting to “give something back” having “just trousered all this money”, in fact he only gave two days a week to this job, even after discovering that governance was “shocking”. Not that he seems to have done much about even this, telling the Business Select Committee last June: “No Board member is going to read every page of a 200 page report.” What? Not even when the directors are legally responsible for that report’s contents? Remember that when reading his complaints about poor governance of a company he chaired.

That Committee reconvenes on 28 February. It should invite Mr Staunton to answer some questions on oath. Here are a few to start them off.

  1. Who was the “fairly senior” person who told him to stall on compensation? In which department? 
  2. When did the conversation happen? Who else was present? What else was said?
  3. Where was his file note put? Was it copied to anyone? If so, whom?
  4. What did he do in response? Did he raise it with anyone? If so, full details please.
  5. Did he raise with this “fairly senior” person the legal liability arising if someone acts as a shadow director?
  6. Did he ask to meet with the Business Secretary to discuss his concerns about compensation? Or any of the other problems he now describes?
  7. How exactly was the CEO, Nick Read, able to write a letter to the Justice Minister seeking to undermine the proposal to overturn subpostmasters’ convictions despite Staunton’s view and that of “at least half of the board” being against this. Is he saying that the CEO defied the Board?
  8. If it was UKGI which instructed Read to do this – as Staunton claims – did he or the Board consider resigning given that such behaviour would seem to undermine not just the Board (“terrible terrible governance” in Staunton’s words) but also what the Prime Minister and Justice Minister had stated on the record in Parliament? 
  9. What other evidence does he have that UKGI appears to oppose blanket exoneration of the subpostmasters?
  10. What steps did Staunton take to improve or change the compensation schemes run by the company he chaired and which he now describes as terribly “bureaucratic”, “pedantic”, “unhelpful” and “unsympathetic” in the year between his appointment and the TV drama. Perhaps he was obstructed at every turn. Perhaps he was not very good at his job. Which one was it? If the former, did he consider resigning? If not, why not? 
  11. What did he or Nick Read do about the investigators Read described as “the untouchables”? What was his relationship with the General Counsel, Ben Foat, to whom these “untouchable” investigators report?
  12. Who is the “Whitehall insider” the government wanted as the new senior independent director instead of the Board’s choice, the casus belli apparently for Mr Staunton’s sacking?

And finally – 

  1. What was his conduct which led to an investigation (as described in the article it seems to have been triggered by a whistleblower) which he sought to block – at least according to the Business Department?

Plenty more questions, no doubt. Not just for Staunton but Nick Read, the UKGI director, Lorna Gratton, Kevin Hollinrake, Kemi Badenoch, the GC and the as yet unnamed “fairly senior” civil servant. 

There is much to be enjoyed when the circular firing squad starts. It’s worth remembering that those blowing the whistle are often up to their necks in whatever wrong they are now speaking about. Speaking up is not always done for noble motives: revenging oneself, getting in early to earn some credit and diverting attention away from their own failings are pretty common motives. More than a whiff of these here.

Spare a thought for poor Kemi. Her MO on this has been to have a last minute announcement made just before some high profile appearances: an offer of £600,000 at 5 pm the day before her first appearance before the Business Select Committee and a few days before her first speech as Cabinet Minister to the Tory Conference. She was conspicuously absent from the front bench when the PM made his announcement on 10 January. Who’ll now remember that 9 February puff piece in the Times (“I’m on top of my brief. I will not be tripped up.”) with this thinly disguised attack on her department’s competence and integrity?


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