UK government to investigate wrongly-paid Post Office executive bonuses
The UK government has announced it will investigate the payment of bonuses to senior executives at the Post Office for their cooperation in an inquiry into a miscarriage of justice.
The state-owned company admitted it had mistakenly paid out £455,000 in bonuses to chief executive Nick Read and other senior executives for their cooperation in an inquiry run by retired high court judge Sir Wyn Williams.
The inquiry investigated the Horizon computer system scandal that falsely accused more than 700 post office operators of theft and false accounting between 2000 and 2014.
The scandal, described as one of the largest miscarriages of justice in British history, led to some operators being sent to prison.
Last year, the Post Office last year agreed to pay up to £1bn in compensation to former post office operators, and the payment of bonuses to executives has been met with outrage.
The government investigation was commissioned by Kevin Hollinrake, a minister at the Department for Business and Trade, who told parliament that he found the situation “extremely concerning and deeply regrettable.”
Read received his £455,000 bonus on top of his £415,000 salary, and chief financial officer, Alisdair Cameron, received £310,000 in bonus payments on top of a £316,000 salary.
He went on to state the Post Office was right to apologize.
The company’s remuneration committee chair, Lisa Harrington, apologised “unreservedly” for the mistake.
Read and other senior executives have agreed to return an undisclosed portion of their bonuses.
The investigation will run in parallel with an internal investigation by Amanda Burton, the new director of the Post Office.
Hollinrake has asked Burton to provide her report within two weeks.
The payment of the bonuses to senior executives has caused anger and concern among MPs, who have described the situation as “adding insult to injury”.
The Post Office has acknowledged the mistake, but the government has criticised the company for not informing it sooner.
Hollinrake told parliament that he was only informed of the false claim a month after officials overseeing the government’s Post Office stake had known about it.
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The investigation will look into how the bonuses were awarded and the conditions under which they were authorised.
The scandal has raised questions about the accountability and transparency of state-owned companies, and the government investigation is likely to result in increased scrutiny of such companies in the future.