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What happens next in the Post Office scandal?

Rishi Sunak has said new legislation will mean those convicted during the Horizon scandal will be exonerated and compensated - here’s how it will work

SANDBACH, ENGLAND - JANUARY 08:  The logo of the Post Office is displayed outside one of its branches on January 08, 2024 in Sandbach, United Kingdom. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
Hundreds of Post Office branch managers who were wrongly convicted in the Horizon IT scandal could have their names cleared by the end of the year. (Getty)

The Post Office should be removed from all compensation schemes linked to the Horizon IT scandal, MPs have said.

The ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office thrust the scandal back into the spotlight, causing a huge public outcry into the multiple miscarriages of justice. Hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongfully convicted, lost money, and suffered extensive trauma over the faulty Horizon IT system. Paula Vennells, the Post Office boss at the time of the scandal, has already handed back her CBE.

Following the announcement of exonerations and compensation schemes in January, the Business and Trade Committee has now issued a report that said the Post Office is “not fit for purpose to administer any of the schemes of redress required to make amends for one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history”. The committee has now demanded an independent body be established to help victims “through every stage of their compensation claims”.

Chairman of the committee, Liam Byrne, labelled it a “national disgrace” that “only £1 in £5 of the budget for compensation has been issued” to sub-postmasters. Byrne said: “Justice delayed is justice denied. And bluntly justice has been denied to our innocent sub-postmasters for far too long.

“It’s high time for the circus of recent weeks to end and for cheques to start landing on the doormats of innocent victims.“

The report also recommends removing a cap on victims’ legal expenses and the introduction of a standardised set of tariffs to help estimate what they are entitled to.

LONDON, UK - JAN 10: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves the Prime Minister's Office to attend the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in London, United Kingdom on January 10, 2024. (Photo by Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Prime minister Rishi Sunak said the Post Office scandal is ‘one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history’. (Getty)

Convictions to be quashed

In January, the government announced that sundreds of sub-postmasters wrongfully convicted in the Post Office scandal are set to have their convictions quashed and be able to secure compensation by the end of the year.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake told the House of Commons that all sub-postmasters convicted during the Horizon scandal will have their convictions squashed on a blanket basis. By signing a statement stating they did not commit the crimes of which they are accused, they will be exonerated and be able to secure compensation.

“It means that an honest postmaster will have his or her conviction overturned and just by signing one document can secure compensation,” Hollinrake said.

What does this mean for the victims?

The mass exoneration will mean that those wrongfully convicted will no longer have a criminal record. The Post Office prosecuted hundreds of sub-postmasters and mistresses between 1999 and 2015 with many of the convictions based on the faulty Horizon IT system.

Downing Street hopes to have the convictions quashed before the end of the year with the “blanket” approach meaning victims will not have to wait years to see justice.

Hollinrake said 980 postmasters had been convicted but just 93 managed to get their convictions overturned. Some 130 people affected by the Horizon scandal have come forward since the TV programme aired and the government’s plan could see even more victims come forward.

The plan will only apply to convictions in England and Wales, but the government has said it is in talks with officials in Scotland and Northern Ireland in respect of wrongful convictions in their jurisdictions.

Hollinrake acknowledged that the new plan does leave open the possibility that some sub-postmasters who did commit a criminal offence will have this conviction quashed – and potentially get taxpayer money in the form of compensation.

However, he argued the "exceptional circumstances" made such an approach a necessity to avoid dragging genuine victims through more heartache. Officials believe those who genuinely cheated the system amount to a tiny number.

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, who represents 70 former sub-postmasters seeking compensation from the Post Office, said he was already being “inundated” by calls from victims “every day” – and that many more are now set to come forward.

How will compensation payments work?

Demands for Alan Bates to receive a knighthood for his decades-long fight for justice for subpostmasters hit by the Horizon scandal has received backing from Downing Street. (Alamy)
Demands for Alan Bates to receive a knighthood for his decades-long fight for justice for sub-postmasters hit by the Horizon scandal has received backing from Downing Street. (Alamy)

The government has not announced details of a full compensation scheme as yet. However, a new up-front offer of £75,000 for the GLO (group litigation order) group of postmasters will be part of the plan. Victims who believe they are entitled to a higher payout can pursue a full assessment on an individual basis.

In November last year – before the story was thrust back into the spotlight – ministers promised to give £600,000 to every branch owner who had seen their conviction overturned. Hollinrake said the reason the £75,000 offer to those in the GLO scheme was lower than those who have already had their convictions overturned was because their claims tended to be lower. He said a third of GLO claimants "may wish to consider this route".

The government has set a target of issuing a compensation offer to 90% of those in group litigation within 40 days of receiving the signed statement stating they did not commit a crime.

ITV STUDIOS
MR BATES Vs POST OFFICE



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Mr Bates vs The Post Office has thrust the Post Office scandal back into the spotlight. (ITV)

Three different compensation schemes have already been set up since the scandal was first exposed but many are still yet to have been compensated. The Post Office said in December that it had paid out £32.4 million to those wrongfully convicted.

The Horizon Shortfall Scheme, formerly called the Historical Shortfall Scheme, has paid out £117m to 2,645 postmasters, according to the Post Office. The government says compensation has been paid to more than 2,700 claimants.

Hollinrake said the legislation may take "some weeks to deliver".

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake leaves the Millbank Studios in Westminster, central London. Picture date: Wednesday January 10, 2024. (Photo by James Manning/PA Images via Getty Images)
Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake said there was a ‘sense of urgency’ over compensation for victims of the Horizon scandal. (Getty)

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The public inquiry

A public inquiry into the scandal is ongoing, with postmasters claiming that senior Post Office staff either knew about the system's failings or "shut their eyes" to them.

Lawyers for those wrongly accused said the inquiry has produced enough evidence for police to investigate senior staff at the Post Office. They want Sir Wyn Williams, chairman of the inquiry, to pass files to the director of public prosecutions once the inquiry is completed next year.

The police investigation

The Metropolitan Police previously said it was looking at “potential fraud offences” committed during the Horizon IT scandal. The force said its officers are “investigating potential fraud offences arising out of these prosecutions”, for example, “monies recovered from sub-postmasters as a result of prosecutions or civil actions”.

The Met has already been looking into potential offences of perjury and perverting the course of justice in relation to investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Post Office. Two people have been interviewed under caution but nobody has been arrested since the investigation was launched in January 2020.

A photograph taken on January 10, 2024 shows the logo of the Japanese multinational information and communications technology equipment and services corporation Fujitsu on the top of their Head Office building, in Bracknell, west of London. Between 1999 and 2015, some 700 Post Office branch managers were prosecuted, sometimes to the point of having their lives shattered, based on information from accounting software called Horizon, installed by Japanese tech giant Fujitsu at the end of the 1990s. A public inquiry into the scandal opened in February 2022 but has yet to examine who at the top of the Post Office knew what and when. Victims hope it will establish who was responsible for Post Office lawyers hounding innocent people through the courts even after credible doubts had been raised about Horizon. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
The Horizon IT system was developed by Fujitsu. (Getty)

Kevan Jones, a member of the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, said a “number of individuals” should be prosecuted over the scandal. He told ITV's Good Morning Britain in January there are "umpteen charges that could be laid against a number of individuals", adding: "That has got to happen."

Conservative MP Duncan Baker, who used to work as a postmaster, said the Post Office should be forced to reveal how much money they “stole” from “innocent men and women”.

The North Norfolk MP told the Commons: “One question that has never been answered is just how much money was taken unlawfully from thousands of innocent men and women. The Post Office took that money, we have never known that figure.

“Even the most basic accountant knows that it will run into hundreds of millions of pounds. So could the minister find out from the Post Office, force them to publish, just the grand scale of how much money they stole from people?”

Hollinrake said he will “endeavour to find out the number”.

Watch: The Post Office scandal: What is it and has anyone been held accountable?