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UK Government to Investigate Post Office Over Wrongly Paid Bonuses

The UK government has said it will investigate after the Post Office admitted it had wrongly paid thousands of pounds of bonuses to top executives simply for cooperating with an inquiry into a long-running miscarriage of justice.

The Post Office chief executive, Nick Read, agreed last week to return an undisclosed portion of the £455,000 bonus reported by the state-owned company in its annual report in March.

Kevin Hollinrake, a minister at the Department for Business and Trade, on Wednesday told parliament he had commissioned the government investigation into how the bonuses were awarded, as furious MPs said the Post Office had “added insult to injury” with the latest twist in the scandal.

“The situation is extremely concerning and deeply regrettable, and the Post Office is right to apologise,” Hollinrake said in response to an urgent question.

More than 700 operators of post offices around the country were prosecuted for theft and false accounting between 2000 and 2014 after the company’s flawed Horizon computer system falsely said there were shortfalls in their takings. The scandal, which resulted in some operators being sent to prison, has been described as one of the largest miscarriages of justice in British history.

The government last year said it would pay former post office operators up to £1bn in compensation, after the company said it would not be able to afford the bill.

Kevin Hollinrake speaking in the Commons in 2020
The business minister Kevin Hollinrake told parliament the situation was ‘deeply regrettable’. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

However, the Post Office awarded Read and other senior executives large bonuses for the 2022 financial year, and said part of those bonuses recognised that “all required evidence and information [was] supplied on time” to an inquiry being run by retired high court judge Sir Wyn Williams.

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The annual report falsely said that Williams had confirmed that the target had been met. The Post Office acknowledged in a statement on 5 May that he had not done so, and the remuneration committee chair, Lisa Harrington, who signed off on the bonuses, apologised “unreservedly” for what the company described as a mistake.

Read received his £455,000 bonus on top of his £415,000 salary , while the chief financial officer, Alisdair Cameron, received £310,000 in bonus payments on top of a £316,000 salary.

Hollinrake told parliament he was only informed of the false claim on 6 May, the day of King Charles’s coronation, and a month after officials overseeing the government’s Post Office stake had first known about it. He added that Read has apologised to the business department.

“To my mind we should have been made aware of this situation straight away,” Hollinrake said. “The conditions under which this bonus was authorised were questionable to say the least.”

The government investigation will run in parallel to an internal Post Office investigation by its new director, Amanda Burton, who will take over the company’s remuneration committee. Hollinrake said he had asked for Burton to provide her report within two weeks.

The Post Office has been approached for comment.

Source : TheGuardian