MPs demand Government ‘fully compensates’ all victims of Post Office scandal

The chairman of a Commons committee also said the families of sub-postmasters who had died should also be recompensed.

17 February 2022

Hundreds of Post Office workers who challenged the faulty Horizon accounting software in the civil courts should be fully compensated, a group of cross-party MPs has recommended.

Labour MP Darren Jones, who chairs the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee also said it was his “personal view” that the families of sub-postmasters (SPMs) who had died without being refunded for the scandal should be able to claim compensation.

Ministers have been urged to fully reimburse all SPMs amid a statutory inquiry into the scandal.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, hundreds of SPMs were taken to court by the Post Office for fraud after the Horizon IT system led to flaws in accounting at branches across the UK.

In 2019, a group of 555 SPMs successfully challenged the Post Office over the Horizon system in the High Court.

While the Government has since opened a fund to compensate more than 700 wrongfully convicted SPMs, the original 555 were not able to claim from this because of their settlement with the Post Office, and say they are out of pocket due to legal costs.

As the BEIS committee released an interim report into its own findings about the scandal on Thursday, Mr Jones said: “The Post Office-Horizon scandal is one of the largest miscarriages of justice in British history, subjecting sub-postmasters, postal workers and their families to the most appalling hardship.

“It is clearly entirely unacceptable that the group of 555 victims who first brought this scandal successfully to court are being left in a worse position than those who are being compensated thanks to their action.”

Mr Jones told the PA news agency the Government should also consider “the ability for the families of victims who have died to be able to have access to compensation”.

“It is certainly my personal view that the estates should be able to access the scheme as well,” he added.

In December, the Government came forward with a £685.6 million support package to foot the bill for compensation, but the committee’s interim report called for clarity about whether this funding would be available to the 555 former SPMs who won the civil case.

The report said the funding the Government had provided was “far in excess of the costs incurred so far”, with estimated payouts so far totalling £258 million.

However, Mr Jones told PA that payments of “around the billion pound mark” could be made if the Chancellor signed off on a cheque to put every victim of the scandal “back in the position they should have been but for the fact that the Post Office prosecuted them”.

MP portraits
Darren Jones (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

To complicate matters, the Labour MP said there was no estimate of the overall number of SPMs affected by faults in Horizon, as some were not taken to court but were made to pay back the Post Office from their own pockets with very little record keeping of how much was paid, or by who.

He added that ministers “ought to think about” a “counterclaim against Fujitsu” to recover costs incurred by the Post Office, which is wholly owned by the Government.

As well as recommending that all SPMs are fully compensated, the BEIS committee report recommends the Government provides regular updates when compensation is refused for sub-postmasters who have had their convictions overturned, the reasons for this and if subsequent compensation is sought and awarded.

It also calls for the Government to provide monthly updates on the number of interim payments made to SPMs through its Historic Settlement Scheme.

Former High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams began hearing evidence for the statutory inquiry into the scandal on Monday.

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