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‘Completely incorrect’ to say ministers want to slow down Post Office payouts

It is “completely incorrect” to say that ministers have been pushing to go slow on paying out compensation to subpostmasters, a senior civil servant has said.

Carl Creswell, director of business resilience at the Department of Business and Trade, said ministers and senior civil servants wanted to pay out money faster.

It came after former Post Office chairman Henry Staunton – who is giving evidence in Parliament later on Tuesday – claimed he had been told to delay payouts to subpostmasters affected by problems with the Horizon computer system.

Post Office court case
Hundreds of subpostmasters are still awaiting compensation (Yui Mok/PA)

It opened a row with Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who accused him of spreading “made-up anecdotes”.

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Speaking to MPs on the Business and Trade Committee, Mr Creswell on Tuesday said that his conversations with former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) permanent secretary Sarah Munby had not been about slowing down payouts.

“You would have thought someone would have mentioned it to me if that were the intent. Not at all,” he said.

“I worked very closely with Sarah Munby, she and I worked with Treasury to secure the funding needed for the schemes.”

He added: “Every conversation I had with her, with ministers, with other senior civil servants in other parts of Government, have all been about how we can pay out this money more quickly, so, no, that is completely incorrect, that assertion.”

Mr Staunton stepped down from the Post Office amid ongoing tensions last month.

Kemi Badenoch visits Istanbul
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch accused former Post Office chairman Henry Staunton of spreading ‘made-up anecdotes’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

Since then he has claimed that in a meeting with Sarah Munby he was told to “hobble” into the next general election, according to notes reported by The Times newspaper.

Mr Creswell said that 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 that Post Office director Ben Tidswell said that “the level of anxiety about Mr Staunton’s behaviour was such that we might see resignations from the board”.

He added: “I have never heard of anything like the allegations that were made to me by Ben Tidswell when he phoned me, and I have never seen anything like the behaviour since that article was published in the Sunday Times by someone who has taken what has happened and who has talked about it in the way he has.”

He said there were two main allegations that 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.

The Horizon IT scandal saw more than 700 subpostmasters handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

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