London: UK Business Minister Kemi Badenoch on Sunday (Jan 28) said she had sacked the chairman of the Post Office amid tensions over the scandal of hundreds of subpostmasters wrongly convicted of theft due to faulty accounting software.
A television drama in early January that told the story of the subpostmasters’ ordeal and their ongoing battle to clear their names and secure compensation shocked the nation.
The strong public reaction prompted Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to announce in parliament that his government would legislate to ensure the victims of what has been called Britain’s biggest miscarriage of justice were “swiftly exonerated and compensated”.
“We had a conversation and it was agreed that it was better that the Post Office had new leadership going forward,” Badenoch told Sky News, confirming that she had removed Post Office chief Henry Staunton.
There has been intense criticism of previous Post Office chief Paula Vennells and others who are accused of allowing the prosecutions to continue even after problems with the software were known about.
Staunton, appointed in December 2022, was not at the helm during the installation of the faulty Horizon software or the subsequent legal cases.
“But I decided that given all of the difficulties the Post Office is having, it?s not just about Horizon, it?s about the entire business model, how we make it work, that we needed someone who could chair a board that was able to deal with these things effectively,” Badenoch added.
The minister also said she “certainly” expected Japanese tech firm Fujitsu to pay compensation over the scandal.
Glitches in the IT system made it look as if money was missing leading to the conviction of over 700 subpostmasters for theft or false accounting between 1999 and 2015.
Some went to jail, were made bankrupt or lost their homes. Four took their own lives.
Badenoch said she had written to the chairman of Fujitsu asking for meetings.
“Fujitsu … are very much a part of this story, it?s not just Post Office management, and I hope that they will do the right thing,” she said.
Head of Fujitsu’s European arm Paul Patterson told a public inquiry probing the scandal earlier this month the company had a “moral obligation” to help compensate the subpostmasters.
“I am personally appalled by the evidence that I have seen and what I saw on the television drama,” he said.