Following the Court of Appeal Post Office decision, Jerome asked Paul Scully MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Dept for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy) about compensation for victims of the Horizon scandal.
The miscarriage of justice that left 39 postmasters convicted of crimes of theft that they did not commit has finally been righted with the Court of Appeal overturning their convictions. This includes one of us here in Broadland. The computer system that the Post Office used to keep track of money was inaccurate, sometimes suggesting that money had gone missing. But instead of investigating the claims of staff properly, Post Office management chose to believe their IT system rather than their employees. You might think fair enough for the first couple of incidents – we tend to think that computers are infallible. But this went on for years, affecting thousands of staff. And instead of launching a proper investigation when concerns about the computer system started to be substantiated, the Post Office doubled down in its pursuit of its own staff rather than admit that it had made a terrible mistake. And even worse than that, when the truth finally emerged and 555 former staff went to Court in 2019 for compensation, the Post Office deliberately used their financial muscle to drive up the costs of the litigation until the postmasters were forced to settle. The Government is the only shareholder of Post Office, so this is was essentially public money that it was using to prevent their own staff from receiving appropriate compensation for their wrongful treatment. The result was that most of the eventual settlement went on legal fees, leaving just £15,000 for each victim.
The Government has already set up an inquiry into the conduct of the Post Office but there was an additional ministerial statement yesterday to respond to the Court of Appeal’s decision. Whilst the Government is making sure that the Post Office compensates all the staff affected that were not part of the 2019 compensation claim, it is currently suggesting that those earlier litigants have already received compensation “in full and final settlement”. This may be contractually right but it is certainly morally wrong. I asked the minister about this yesterday in Parliament, calling for the government to make sure that those who were brave enough to take the Post Office to court to expose their mistakes do not remain penalised by the artificially inflated costs of the litigation.