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Nick Read should have tackled misogyny not agitated about pay – former chairman

The former chairman of the Post Office has told MPs the company’s chief executive Nick Read should have focused more on tackling misogyny rather than “agitating about his pay”.

Henry Staunton wrote to the Business and Trade Committee on Monday to speak about a document relating to Mr Read’s conduct – which he said was an “expression of frustration” by the business’s former HR director.

Mr Staunton said the former HR director felt there was an attitude from “Read and his henchmen” towards her as a “pain in the arse for focusing on tackling the toxic culture rather than prioritising Read’s salary”.

He said he believed Mr Read’s behaviour constituted “bullying”.

The former chairman said the document, which he referred to during his evidence to MPs last week, also included Mr Read’s “badgering over his salary and repeated threats to resign”.

A spokesman for the Post Office said Mr Staunton’s claims contained “inaccuracies and falsehoods”, adding: “Nobody should be drawing any conclusions at this stage.”

The Post Office has said the “Speak Up” document contained allegations against the chief executive, but also others and that an external investigation would conclude at the end of the month or the start of April.

Mr Staunton said: “The Speak Up complaint was entirely directed at Nick Read, his own conduct and lack of his management of the many governance and compliance issues.”

The former chairman added that the Post Office had “stumbled on a pretext for widening the investigation to include me” – labelling the allegations against him as a “sham investigation” and “a stitch-up”.

Mr Staunton said he was included in the investigation following a conversation with the former HR director in January 2023, in which he said remarks were made to him “by a third party when I was in a previous role” and that he had also asked about the ethnic origin of a candidate.

He told MPs: “It should be noted that, the HR Director and I were of similar mind in pushing the Post Office CEO for more to be done to increase ethnic representation at senior levels, as well as tackle the misogyny that was pervasive in the organisation and spend less time agitating about his pay.”

Giving his version of events, Mr Staunton wrote: “When the HR Director came to write her Speak Up dossier, which was not a legal document but an expression of her frustration, she made reference to that conversation without naming me, and in an entirely different context.

“Her purpose, as she communicated to me, was to express what she felt was the attitude of the chief executive to her as the only woman in the senior management team: she felt that she was being treated by Read and his henchmen as a ‘pain in the arse’ for focusing on tackling the toxic culture rather than prioritising Read’s salary.

“She had no doubt that I was fully supportive of her position, and she had previously come to me on numerous occasions for advice on how to deal with Read’s behaviour towards her, which in her, and my view, constituted bullying.”

Speaking about the allegations against him, Mr Staunton said: “Despite the unbelievably weak grounds for launching an investigation into me personally which was prompted by a primary complaint by the HR Director against the chief executive, and the chief executive alone, I have fully cooperated with the investigation, have answered all their questions to the best of my ability, and indeed have recently attended an interview with the barrister leading the investigation.

“I take assertions to the contrary by both the Post Office and the Business Department very seriously indeed.

“To me they are further evidence of the way closing ranks and covering people’s backs have, through this entire sorry episode, been given priority over getting at the truth.

“I do not recognise the false equivalence between the allegations against Nick Read, some of which are serious, and the allegations against me which are flimsy in the extreme.”

A spokesman for the Post Office said: “There are inaccuracies and falsehoods in Mr Staunton’s claims.

“The investigation remains ongoing, and nobody should be drawing any conclusions at this stage.”