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Former subpostmaster criticises ‘buffoonery’ of Sir Ed Davey campaign

The Lib Dem leader attempted a floating assault course during a visit to Warwickshire last week (Jacob King/PA)
The Lib Dem leader attempted a floating assault course during a visit to Warwickshire last week (Jacob King/PA)

A former subpostmaster who lost his livelihood in the Horizon scandal has accused Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey of “buffoonery” for his stunt-laden election campaign.

Lee Castleton compared Sir Ed’s actions to those of former Tory prime minister Boris Johnson, adding trust is “never going to be built” by “paddleboarding in Cumbria”.

Sir Ed has come under fire for not doing more to help wrongly-convicted subpostmasters between 2010 and 2012 when he served as postal affairs minister in the coalition government.

He has previously apologised for failing to see through the Post Office’s “lies” and insisted he is taking voters’ concerns seriously during a campaign in which he has visited a theme park and also sped down the Ultimate Slip n Slide near Frome, Somerset.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon IT system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Mr Castleton, from Bridlington, East Yorkshire, was found to have a £25,000 shortfall at his branch in 2004 and was made bankrupt after he lost his legal battle with the Post Office.

He told the BBC’s Sunday Morning With Laura Kuenssberg: “I don’t particularly like the buffoonery, I find it very Boris-esque and I don’t think there’s any need for it.

Former Post Office worker Lee Castleton outside the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry in central London
Lee Castleton, pictured, compared Sir Ed’s actions to those of former Tory prime minister Boris Johnson (Yui Mok/PA)

“It’s really, really, really important that we trust him and trust is never going to be built by swinging around on ropes or paddleboarding in Cumbria.

“Trust is about engaging with the people that need that engagement.”

Sir Ed, asked by Ms Kuenssberg if he was taking things seriously, replied: “On the subpostmasters, my heart goes out to Lee and all the others so badly affected and I’m looking forward to giving evidence to the inquiry, which I campaigned for to hold people to account.

“But in terms of the things we’ve been doing, the stunts, actually the real issue is engaging people and they have done.”

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg
Sir Ed was appearing on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

He added: “We’re taking the voters’ concerns really seriously.

“That’s why we’ve put forward all these policy proposals and whenever we do one of those stunts to engage people – so I show that I’m not taking myself too seriously, I’m taking the voters seriously – we’ve had lots of policy ideas.

“So when I was going down that slide, we were talking about mental health.”

The Lib Dem manifesto proposes creating an “office of the whistle-blower” to provide new legal protections and promote greater public awareness of their rights.

Former subpostmaster and lead campaigner Sir Alan Bates
Former subpostmaster and lead campaigner Sir Alan Bates recently criticised Sir Ed for initially refusing to meet him in 2010 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It also calls for “full and fair” compensation to all victims of the Horizon scandal “as quickly as possible”.

Concerns about the Horizon system were raised in 2000 by Sir Alan Bates, while Computer Weekly magazine broke the story of seven subpostmasters beginning their fight for justice in 2009.

Sir Alan recently criticised Sir Ed for initially refusing to meet him in 2010, a disclosure which led to calls from Tory MPs for the Lib Dem leader to stand down and hand back his knighthood.

Asked how people could trust him to do the right thing for whistle-blowers, Sir Ed said: “The whistle-blower was key in the Horizon scandal.

Sir Ed Davey takes part in an assault course
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey attempted an assault course during an election campaign visit to Arena Pursuits in Wadhurst, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“We really only heard it in the Panorama programme by the BBC in 2015, quite a few years after I left office, and then in 2019 in the High Court case.

“That whistle-blower from Fujitsu, an insider at Fujitsu, who said actually the Post Office had been telling lies to subpostmasters, to ministers, to courts and judges, that whistle-blower was crucial, as the ITV drama on Alan Bates showed.”

He added: “I was listening, I was the first minister to meet Alan Bates and I took his issues really seriously … I put his concerns to the Post Office and I think I was probably the only minister who did that in that level of detail.

“And I was lied to – just like the subpostmasters were lied to, just like the judges and the courts were lied to, and that’s why the whistle-blower is so important.

“We have to change the system.”

Mr Castleton, writing on social media site X, later said he “must praise” the Lib Dems for their manifesto pledge to protect whistleblowers.