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Thousands of sub-post office operators are still seeking compensation for Horizon hardships
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MPs push government to expand Horizon compensation

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The 20-year scandal surrounding the Post Office Horizon computer system that resulted in several hundred wrongful convictions and financial ruin for thousands more continues to reverberate through the political echo chamber.

20th Jan 2022
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In a letter to sub-postmistress Sue Palmer, who was acquitted on false accounting charges in 2004, Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) minister Paul Scully committed the government to funding a comprehensive compensation package, Computer Weekly reported.

The minister’s letter followed a few days after the House of Commons BEIS select committee took evidence from Scully and Post Office CEO Nick Read on 11 January about the progress of outstanding compensation claims.

In his opening statement to the committee, Read apologised for the Post Office’s failings of the past. “It is my job and my intention to make sure that we give full and final compensation to all the victims of the past and to their families,” he said.

But the government’s compensation offer is complicated by the byzantine twists of previous court cases and settlements between the Post Office and its former employees.

Spiralling costs

The Post Office CEO told MPs that the organisation needed government support for the restitution effort as it “does not have the financial resources to compensate a miscarriage of justice of this scale”.

In total, 950 postmasters were prosecuted and 736 had unsafe convictions relating to Horizon. “The scale and size of the compensation we are talking about goes back over 20 years,” Read added.

A group of 555 post office operators challenged their convictions in a group action led by Alan Bates, who won a £57.75m settlement payment in the High Court in 2019. After allowing for legal costs, however, the claimants shared around £10m – less than £20,000 each.

In December, Bates appeared before the same parliamentary inquiry to complain that he and his fellow litigants had been excluded from the latest round of compensation discussions. Around 2,500 former postmasters and mistresses who did not challenge the allegations and paid out the shortfalls have so far applied for a historical shortfall scheme that has been paying out interim settlements of up to £100,000.

The scale of compensation and the amounts the Post Office spent in resisting claims and the group litigation also came under the spotlight. According to Post Office, more than £300m has been paid out in compensation so far, not to mention associated legal fees alleged to be in the region of £100m.

UK Government Investments director Tom Cooper told MPs that a cost estimate of £153m for the historical shortfall scheme was published in the Post Office’s last accounts, but “that will be updated when the new accounts are published”.

Going round in circles

After committee chair Darren Jones MP accused Read and Scully of “going round in circles” on compensation at the 11 January committee hearing, Scully’s subsequent letter to former sub-postmistress attempted to clarify the picture.

The 555 participants in the 2019 group litigation would now be eligible for compensation, he wrote, adding: “The compensation is open to all those who were prosecuted, including those not convicted, and will be determined based on individual circumstances.”

In addition to the BEIS committee investigation, former civil servant Sir Wyn Williams is carrying out a statutory enquiry into the Horizon scandal. He  is hoping to hold public hearings between February and April. The date of his final report has yet to be determined.

Replies (6)

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By D V Fields
20th Jan 2022 12:47

I hope the postmasters get their just compensation; but equally want to see more done to bring those who abused their power to bring malicious prosecutions to justice. Only when that has happened - and am sure there are many like me who would like to be on the jury to make sure as best we can there is no cover up or excuses - will justice be seen to be done.
Dave

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By Hugo Fair
20th Jan 2022 16:36

"bring those who abused their power to bring malicious prosecutions to justice"
And I get called an undiluted optimist (by some)!

I won't name names here (you can read P Eye for that level of detail), but several have received 'honours' (even after the scandal was known) and have moved on to 'better things' - not a particularly high bar when set against their P.O. performance!

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By D V Fields
20th Jan 2022 19:58

I hope it is not just wishful thinking. Criminal proceedings don’t just happen and when courts refer to “abuse of process” and abuse of the criminal system in bringing the proceedings then whoever in the Post Office made the decision to prosecute is accountable. Decisions are made by individuals, thankfully not computers. That individual is known; not by me but nevertheless is known. Not sure I would look any further as their best defence “incompetence” plea will just add to their corrupt behaviour. Sadly, in my view, justice will not be done unless the prosecutors are held to account. I hope the postmasters get that day in court if they wish. Soon.

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By AnnAccountant
20th Jan 2022 15:40

There is no justice unless the people who knew go to prison - which they won't.

Shows the dangers of being too reliant on computers - and the slapdash people who code the software - but I expect many will sleepwalk into having their money and right to access places all on their phone. What could possibly go wrong?

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By Beef curtains
20th Jan 2022 17:40

That Vennells [***] and everyone around her should be skinned alive....publicly.

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By Hugo Fair
25th Jan 2022 21:37

April 2021: "Rev Paula Vennells, the former head of the Post Office, has resigned from the boards of the supermarket chain Morrisons and retailer Dunelm.
Vennells has also stepped back from her duties as a minister at the Church of St Owen near Bedford, in the diocese of St Albans.
She has already quit roles with the NHS and Cabinet Office.
Vennells .. made £5m while running the PO business and was awarded a CBE for “services to the Post Office and to charity”"!

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