Post Office workers implicated in the Horizon IT scandal have said they are no closer to gaining compensation a year after the first convictions were overturned.
Neil Hudgell, the lawyer leading compensation negotiations, has called for cases to be settled by the end of the year to prevent the victims facing further financial ruin.
Thirty-nine long-standing convictions were quashed at the Court of Appeal in central London on April 23 last year, and the number has since risen to 73.
I may no longer be a criminal but I’m still very much a victim. The Post Office continues to control my life and cause me stress and sleepless nights
Mr Hudgell said: “We need to bring these cases to a close in the course of this calendar year so these decent, honest people can move on with their lives and finally enjoy some peace of mind.
“Many feel strongly that their ongoing suffering continues to be used as a lever to make derisory settlement offers.
“For some poor subpostmasters time has beaten them, they have died or lost capacity. For others the clock is ticking quickly too.
“Perhaps the words of one subpostmaster to me best sums up the current position.
“They said: ‘I’m concerned now that the interim payment has run out, just settling personal loans, debts and essential house repairs – my freezer, washer and microwave have all packed up over recent months, and now my boiler.
“I may no longer be a criminal but I’m still very much a victim.
“The Post Office continues to control my life and cause me stress and sleepless nights’.”
Mr Hudgell added that although most subpostmasters have received interim payments from the Post Office, they feel that these payments have only been given so the institution can feel like “they have been doing them a favour” instead of handing back money wrongly taken.
He called for another round of interim payments to settle agreed losses, and an early dispute resolution with Post Office lawyers to resolve ongoing issues, adding: “We are poles apart in how we value some of the losses suffered by the subpostmasters.”
The Court of Appeal has previously heard that many subpostmasters’ lives were “irreparably ruined” as they lost their jobs, homes and marriages after they were prosecuted by the Post Office – which knew the Fujitsu-developed Horizon system had “faults and bugs from the earliest days of its operation”.
Hundreds of people who ran Post Office branches were convicted of offences – including theft and false accounting – during the period of time the system was being used.
The Post Office said they have provided “swift financial relief” with interim payments of up to £100,000 to the “overwhelming majority” of the 73 people whose convictions were overturned.
A spokesperson said: “We are sincerely sorry for the impact of the Horizon scandal on the lives of victims and their families. We are in no doubt about the human cost.
“Whilst we cannot change the past, we have taken determined action to ensure that justice is provided for people affected, together with full, fair and final compensation.
“We have provided swift financial relief with interim payments of up to £100,000 to the overwhelming majority of the 73 people who have had convictions overturned, ahead of final settlements.
“Separately, we have made compensation offers to more than half of people who applied to the Historical Shortfall Scheme, and of those the majority have already been accepted and paid. Offers and payments continue to be made every week.”
The Post Office added that it is “co-operating fully, openly and transparently” with the ongoing statutory inquiry led by Sir Wyn Williams while making “fundamental” internal reforms.