Ed Davey talks to Today about the Horizon scandal

Ed Davey was interviewed on the Today programme  this morning about his actions as postal affairs minister during the Horizon scandal.

The BBC had obtained a briefing from civil servants to Ed in which he was advised to meet Alan Bates “for presentational reasons” and not to make any commitments to him.

Ed made the point that he had wanted to meet Alan Bates anyway after Bates’ second letter to him and, after that meeting, he had questioned the Post Office, who had lied to him. He added that it wasn’t until the BBC interviewed a whistleblower from Fujitsu in August 2015, long after he had left his post, that there was any hard evidence to go on about the problems with Horizon.

He also talked about how he had been calling for an independent enquiry and speedy compensation since 2015.

From the BBC:

However, Sir Ed told the BBC’s Today programme it “wasn’t the case” that he had agreed to meet Mr Bates because of potential bad publicity.

“That’s what the officials put in the submission to me just before the meeting, but I wanted to meet him because after his second letter, I felt I should hear his concerns,” he said.

Sir Ed said he was the first minister to meet Mr Bates and added he took his concerns “very seriously”. “When I put those concerns to the Post Office, concerns about the Horizon IT system, I’m afraid I was lied to,” he said. With a general election coming up, Sir Ed said he had not considered stepping down as Liberal Democrat leader.

“When I go out there campaigning, we’re finding incredible results in seats that only we can beat the Conservatives in,” he said. “The party is very keen for us to fight this election really hard under my leadership.”

Those of you who haven’t read Ed’s Guardian article from last week in which he recognised and apologised for his failure to see through the lies he had been told can do so here.

In the article, Ed said:

We can now see how the Post Office tricked and bullied men and women into giving false confessions. So many served prison time, lost their businesses and their homes, for something they didn’t do. They’ve spent years waiting for justice, and some have died waiting. It is a black stain on our nation, on our government and most of all on the Post Office.

So how did we get here? It’s hard not to conclude that this was a conspiracy on a grand scale, and it was only exposed when a brave whistleblower came forward from inside Fujitsu itself in 2015. But thanks to that whistleblower, the high court could finally rule in 2019 that the Post Office had lied when saying there was no remote access to a subpostmaster’s local Horizon system, and lied about how robust the Horizon system was. I and other ministers from all three parties may have had concerns, may have spoken to brave people like Bates and James Arbuthnot, but without a whistleblower we never had the proof from inside to tear down the Post Office’s wall of lies.

We have a broken system. A system that puts major institutions like the Post Office at arm’s length from our elected representatives, and makes them almost a law unto themselves. Close enough for rubber stamping, yet out of reach of proper scrutiny.

It may shock you that, even though the Post Office is owned by the government, there aren’t any MPs or ministers on its board. Instead, a single civil servant sits on the board. Lord Forsyth, a lifelong Conservative, was right last month to argue that the problem is a system in which ministers who are theoretically accountable for arm’s-length bodies “are unable to execute responsibility”.

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  • Bruce Florance 7th Feb '24 - 10:31am

    Has the BBC requested details of briefings to other minsters responsible for the post office or only Ed Davey?

  • David Rogers 7th Feb '24 - 10:57am

    The BBC – or at least Martha Kearney and the Today programme – now appears to have joined the Tory press in singling out just ONE minister out of the many with Post Office responsibilities during the past two decades or more, and to think it right to seek to hold him to account (they would probably say blame him) for everything that went wrong and which has now – many years later – been exposed.
    Given the circumstances in 2010 and now, I thought Ed Davey gave a lucid account of the sequence of events, and came across well against her opinionated questioning.

  • Brigid Gardner 8th Feb '24 - 8:04am

    As Politico pm pointed out yesterday:
    Joined-up thinking at the Beeb: It’s a shame Conservative former MP Margot James wasn’t asked a single question about the Horizon scandal when she appeared on Newsnight last night to discuss the Conservative right. James was post office minister between summer 2016 and the end of 2017, *after* Fujitsu whistleblower Richard Roll, who lifted the lid on remote access to the crap Horizon software, appeared on Panorama, and while other Post Office lies were beginning to unravel.

  • Alex Macfie 8th Feb '24 - 12:34pm

    Margot James not being asked about the PO/Horizon scandal seems to me to be grounds for a complaint to the BBC. That she’s no longer a public figure is irrelevant. So is the fact that she was invited to talk about something else. Since she was on the programme, if Ed is being asked about the scandal, then Ms James should have been as well. Nor is the fact that Ed is publicly associated with the scandal and James is not a valid excuse. The only reason Ed is associated with it the biased reporting from the right-wing media. Impartiality is not supposed to mean reflecting the biases of other media outlets.

  • Steve Trevethan 9th Feb '24 - 4:04pm

    Might our party act as an insightful, national interest motivated party and loudly seek an prompt, analytical investigation into the how, why and who of a series of ministers responsible for the efficient and equitable running of the Post Office being kept in ignorance for so many years?

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