UK Government ‘looking at’ measures to clear Horizon scandal postmasters, PM says
The UK Government is “looking at” the option of exonerating Post Office branch managers involved in the Horizon scandal, the Prime Minister has said.
Rishi Sunak on Sunday confirmed a report that Justice Secretary Alex Chalk is considering ways of helping to clear the names of convicted subpostmasters caught up in what has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.
More than 700 Post Office branch managers were given criminal convictions after faulty Fujitsu accounting software called Horizon made it appear as though money was missing from their shops.
There has been fresh public backlash to the scandal after ITV aired a drama starring actor Toby Jones last week about the scandal.
Reports suggest since Mr Bates Vs The Post Office was broadcast, 50 new potential victims have approached lawyers.
The Post Office is wholly owned by the Government and a public inquiry into Horizon is ongoing.
According to The Sunday Times, the Justice Secretary is looking at whether the Post Office can be stripped of its role in the appeals process as victims continue to attempt to overturn wrongful convictions.
One option being considered by the Cabinet minister is whether the Crown Prosecution Service could take over the process, which the newspaper said could make it easier for convictions to be quashed.
Asked on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme if he could confirm the report, Mr Sunak said: “The Justice Secretary is looking at the things that you’ve described.
“It wouldn’t be right to pre-empt that process.
“There is legal complexity in all of those things but he is looking at exactly those areas.”
Speaking later during a visit to Oxford on Sunday, the Prime Minister said the UK Government was “keen to do everything we can because this was absolutely appalling” and should “never have happened”.
He told broadcasters: “It has been an appalling miscarriage of justice and appalling treatment of all the people affected and it is right that they get the redress that they deserve.
“That is why the Government has put in place three different compensation schemes that have already paid out almost £150 million to thousands of people who are affected, and are keen to go as quickly as possible.
“There are interim payments available of up to £600,000 to get support to people who need it quickly, and of course, as I said previously, everyone who thinks that they should have a claim must come forward, talk to the authorities so we can get their claims processed as quickly as possible.
“More broadly, the Justice Secretary is also looking at other options for how we can provide support for people.”
It comes as a victim of the scandal said the Horizon compensation scheme should not be administered by the organisations currently running it.
Former subpostmaster Lee Castleton said “a completely isolated, separate review and compensation scheme just makes more sense”.
He told Kuenssberg: “I would love it to be taken out of the hands of the people that really caused it in a way.
“This is not just a computer issue, this is a people issue.
“People took people to court. People made decisions on faulty data that they probably knew was faulty.
“There are so many differences, so many problems out there that really, to have a completely isolated, separate review and compensation scheme just makes more sense.”
Scotland Yard said on Friday evening that 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 Metropolitan Police, even before the ITV series on Horizon was broadcast, had 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.
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