The post office chief executive had to pay back some of his bonuses after the group was accused of “misleading” an investigation into the postmaster subcomputer scandal.
Nick Reid and other senior staff received part of their rewards to support an investigation led by Sir Wayne Williams into the faulty Horizon computer system at the Post Office, which led to the wrongful conviction of 700 postal workers for money theft.
However, Williams said he did not agree to pay the reward, even though the Post Office said it had received “assurance” from him that the group “supported the investigation and enabled it to be concluded in line with expectations.” In a statement, Williams said this was “misleading and inaccurate”.
The Post Office said Reid would return an unspecified part of the £455,000 awarded to him in bonuses in 2021-22. The Board is still in discussions with other senior leadership recipients regarding their compensation.
The Post Office said: “We have apologized to Sir Wayne Williams for the inclusion in the Post Office’s Annual Report and Accounts for 2021-22 that the sub-reward, and its completion, was agreed upon with him and with the enquiry.”
The Ministry of Business and Trade, which oversees the state-owned post office, said: “The post office is right to apologise. The government is keen to know what action the Postal Board intends to take on this matter.”
Hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongfully prosecuted for theft between 2000 and 2013 as a result of malfunctions in the Horizon computer system. In 2021, the Court of Appeal overturned 83 people’s criminal convictions, but the process of awarding compensation to those affected has been slow.
MPs called the scandal one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in recent legal history.
“I am troubled by the suggestion that bonus payments have been made to senior executives based on inaccuracies,” said Darren Jones, chairman of the House of Commons business and commerce committee. “This again raises serious questions about corporate governance at the Post Office, not least for the Compensation Committee.”
Lawyers involved in the investigation wrote to the Post Office in March about concerns about the executives’ performance clause, which stipulates that executives be paid a portion of their compensation for providing all “evidence and information” necessary to enable the Horizon IT investigation to “finish in line with expectations.”
Bonuses based on the clause were agreed to in February 2022 and paid in March 2022, according to the Post Office’s annual report, though the investigation was only in its first stage of hearings.
Post office attorneys responded to the investigation’s legal team in an April letter stating that the sub-item had been erroneously marked as “done.”
Dan Needle, former head of tax at law firm Clifford Chance and founder of think-tank Tax Policy Associates, said he “can’t recall another case of a CEO getting paid for something that didn’t happen.”
The Post Office investigation has now entered its third phase, which includes taking evidence of the operation of the Horizon system. There are four phases remaining and the investigation is unlikely to conclude until 2024.