Post Office ‘should face criminal investigation’ over Horizon scandal

Former post office workers celebrating outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after their convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal
Hundreds of postmasters were wrongly prosecuted for accounting errors caused by faulty computing software - Yui Mok/PA

Post Office chiefs should face a criminal investigation for covering up the Horizon scandal, lawyers representing the victims have told the inquiry into the affair.

Between 1999 and 2015, more than 700 postmasters were prosecuted after faulty accounting software made it look like money was missing from their sites.

Now, lawyers involved in the inquiry, one of the most widespread miscarriages of justice in British history, believe that enough evidence has emerged for police to investigate senior Post Office staff.

Postmasters have claimed that senior staff either wilfully covered up dozens of bugs or “deliberately shut their eyes to the obvious”.

Their barristers believe there is the possibility that staff members could face criminal investigations after the inquiry has concluded, for perverting the course of justice.

At least four postmasters took their own lives as a result of the scandal, while many more were sacked and bankrupted. A public inquiry was established in 2020.

Lawyers who represented the victims have told The Times that they want Sir Wyn Williams, the chairman of the inquiry, to pass files to the director of public prosecutions when it concludes next year.

Ed Henry KC said in written submissions to the inquiry: “The evidence has begun to reveal a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, which emerged between 2006 and 2010, and continued for many years”.

He added that the Post Office had a “toxic culture or secrecy and misinformation” and it “specialised in propaganda and policing its own people”.

Paul Marshall, a barrister who has represented some of the postmasters, said: “Based on recent weeks’ hearings there is more than enough evidence for the police to open criminal investigations into several senior Post Office staff.”

Another unnamed barrister told The Times that “the criminal standard of proof was always a high bar”.

They added: “The inquiry will have to have that in mind and won’t recommend people for prosecution unless there’s a reasonable prospect of conviction.”

Janet Skinner, a postmistress who was wrongly jailed for nine months, said that drawing out evidence that could support a criminal investigation into senior Post Office staff was a “focus” for her legal team.

The Metropolitan Police is already investigating two former Horizon IT experts for perjury.

‘We’re acutely aware of the human cost’

A Post Office spokesman said: “We fully share the aims of the current public inquiry, set up to independently establish what went wrong in the past and accountability.

“We’re acutely aware of the human cost of the scandal and we’re doing all we can to right the wrongs of the past as far as that is possible.

“Both Post Office and Government are committed to providing full, fair and final compensation for victims.”

The Met Police said that it is providing the inquiry with information and monitoring proceedings.

In September, the Government said that Post Office staff who have had wrongful convictions for theft and false accounting overturned would be offered £600,000 each in compensation.

But so far, only 93 convictions have been overturned, according to the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, an independent group overseeing compensation related to the scandal.

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