ANDREW PIERCE: How ex-Post Office minister Ed Davey trousered £275k from the legal firm that pursued hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters accused of fraud
Given its status as Britain’s number one news podcast, politicians of all stripes queue up to appear on The Rest Is Politics, the show presented by Tony Blair’s thuggish former communications director Alastair Campbell and ultra-woke ex-Tory MP Rory Stewart.
And Sir Ed Davey, the publicity-starved leader of the Lib Dems, seemed more eager than most to step up to their microphone.
He certainly lost no opportunity last week to boast about his achievements when he was a senior minister in David Cameron’s Coalition Cabinet in a wide-ranging exchange with the gruesome twosome. Davey’s list included landmark legislation such as the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2013, but the former Climate Change Secretary took greatest pride in making Britain, in his words, ‘a world leader in offshore wind’.
Yet, in the 60-minute interview, there was conspicuously no mention by Davey of the most shameful episode of his political career.
Ed Davey did nothing as Postal Affairs minister to halt the avalanche of ruthless criminal proceedings, despite being contacted on numerous occasions by desperate postmasters
Former post office worker Noel Thomas , who was convicted of false accounting in 2006, celebrates outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal
READ MORE: POST OFFICE IT SCANDAL IS LINKED TO NO FEWER THAN FOUR SUICIDES
For the first two years of the coalition government, from 2010 to 2012, Davey served as Postal Affairs minister, a tenure that coincided with a growing realisation that the country’s sub-postmasters had become the victims of a monstrous injustice.
The Post Office blamed hundreds of sub-postmasters for unexplained financial losses in their accounts when the errors were, in fact, caused by glitches in the Horizon IT accounting system it had installed in the 1990s.
The consequences were devastating. Described as ‘the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history’, the Horizon scandal resulted in more than 700 Post Office operators being prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting between 1999 and 2015, an average of almost one a week.
Lives were ruined, with many sent to jail and others bankrupted. Four suicides were linked to the scandal.
And Davey, the Mail can reveal for the first time, did nothing during his two-year term to halt the avalanche of ruthless criminal proceedings, despite being contacted on numerous occasions by desperate postmasters.
In May 2010, shortly after he had been appointed postal affairs minister, Davey was approached by Alan Bates from the campaigning group Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance.
Mr Bates, who had sunk £65,000 into his own sub-Post Office in north Wales, lost everything when the Post Office terminated his contract in 2003 at three months’ notice. He says he was axed because he was raising too many questions about the defective Horizon system.
In 2010, he wrote to Davey saying: ‘Many people have been sent to prison, lost businesses and homes and faced financial ruin by an organisation that will stop at nothing to keep the true facts behind its failing IT system from being exposed. In writing to you on behalf of the group, I am asking for a meeting where we can present our case to you.’
Former sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, who were victims of a massive miscarriage of justice, await the ruling by the Court of Appeal
READ MORE: WIDOW HITS BACK AT POST OFFICE SCANDAL THAT SHE SAYS PUSHED HER HUSBAND TO AN EARLY GRAVE
The response from Davey was brusque. In a letter to Mr Bates, he said: ‘The integrity of the Horizon system is an operational and contractual matter for the Post Office and not the Government. While I do appreciate your concerns and those of Alliance members, I do not believe a meeting would serve any purpose.’
Mr Bates says Davey’s comments were ‘offensive’, adding: ‘So many lives were being ruined because of that attitude. It’s not that ministers could not get involved or investigate the matter. After all, the Government owned 100 per cent of the shares. Usually shareholders are concerned about the morality of the business they own.’
In 2017, 500 postmasters teamed up to launch a group litigation against the Post Office, which responded in turn by hiring the attack-dog lawyers of blue-chip City firm Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) to fight its corner.
And this is where Davey makes his second appearance in the scandal. The Daily Mail can disclose that in the very same year the group action was launched, five years after Davey had behaved so shamefully as a minister, he was himself hired by HSF.
Davey was taken on as a ‘consultant on political issues and policy analysis’ in June 2017, a role for which he was paid a monthly retainer of £5,000, for six hours’ work — a handsome £833 an hour.
Not that his expertise in how to deal with the sub-postmasters did the Post Office and their lawyers much good.
In December 2019, following a long and acrimonious High Court battle, the Post Office threw in the towel just days before judgment was due. The group litigation had dragged on for almost three years and racked up legal bills of more than £35 million. This battle for justice left hundreds of postmasters with a fraction of the compensation they were awarded by the time they had settled legal bills.
The Post Office’s admission that its computer system was flawed came too late for more than 30 sub-postmasters who died without having their names cleared.
Karen Wilson’s husband Julian was among hundreds of sub-postmasters across the UK who suffered due to the Post Office Horizon scandal. Mr Wilson died of cancer while waiting to appeal his conviction
The Post Office’s admission that its computer system was flawed came too late for more than 30 sub-postmasters who died without having their names cleared
However, HSF’s trip on the Post Office gravy train was not quite over yet — it was charged with administering a compensation scheme for the sub-postmasters.
Davey clung on as a consultant with HSF for two more years and, by the time his arrangement came to an end in January 2022, at the height of a row over MPs having second jobs, he had trousered no less than £275,000 from the firm — a small fortune. Told what Davey had earned from the law firm employed by the organisation that Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance had been fighting, Mr Bates said: ‘Well, what a mad, mad world we live in. I’m astonished.
‘It’s so disappointing. Instead of using his former ministerial role, or current position as Lib Dem party leader, to give postmasters the support they deserve in their ongoing quest for justice and compensation, he has maintained a vow of silence about what went on in his department at the time.’
The Horizon scandal is now the subject of an ongoing public inquiry being led by retired High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams, who has been urged to put Davey on the witness stand over his failure to halt the legal action. The inquiry is due to be completed next year. Many of the sub-postmasters will also want answers about what advice Davey was giving the law firm in return for all that money.
To date, 86 operators have had their wrongful convictions overturned and £21 million has been paid in compensation. That is an average payment of £244,000.
After being blamed for serious delays in the administration of the scheme, HSF saw its contract terminated at the turn of the year. And last Monday, the Government said every Post Office operator whose wrongful conviction over the Horizon IT scandal has been overturned will receive £600,000 in compensation. Any Post Office operator who has already received initial compensation payments, or has reached a settlement with the Post Office of less than the £600,000 a head, will be paid the difference.
The Government also said the new compensation offer was in addition to paying for all reasonable legal fees, and any Post Office operator who does not want to accept it can continue with the existing legal process.
Yet Davey, in his speech to the Lib Dem conference this week, had nothing to say about the Post Office issue. And he is not the only senior Lib Dem figure mired in the scandal. Jo Swinson, his predecessor as Lib Dem leader, took over the Post Office portfolio in 2012, and served for almost three years.
The Lib Dems insist that when Davey took up his consultancy with HSF he had no knowledge of the Post Office connection. A spokesman for the party said: ‘Ed had no knowledge that HSF held this account and never had any conversations about the Post Office or Horizon scandal at any occasion with HSF.
‘Ed was exclusively contracted to HSF to advise on renewable energy and the UN climate change talks. He no longer does any consultancy work. It is on the record that Ed feels the Post Office failed in its duty to report the Horizon scandal to ministers. Ed totally endorses the inquiry into this miscarriage of justice.’
But his answers have not satisfied many people. The Democracy Movement, a cross-party pressure group with 320,000 members, which campaigns for more openness in government, has written to Sir Wyn asking him to investigate Davey’s handsomely paid role with HSF.
Stuart Coster, director of the Democracy Movement, says: ‘It’s vital that we establish exactly what went on when Ed Davey held ultimate responsibility for the Post Office at the time this huge scandal was coming to light, yet snubbed repeated pleas from sub-postmasters for them to intervene.
‘Sir Ed’s subsequent lucrative financial links with the Post Office’s law firm after leaving office must also be a topic the Inquiry fully investigates.
‘Many will find it difficult to understand how Sir Ed Davey didn’t seem to see any political, or indeed moral, conflict of interest as a former postal affairs minister in collecting large monthly consultancy fees from the Post Office’s law firm throughout the time they were battling sub-postmasters who were trying to clear their names.’
Source: Read Full Article