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UK Government ‘looking at’ measures to clear Horizon scandal postmasters, PM says

07 Jan 2024 4 minute read
Photo Tim Ireland PA Images

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.

Public inquiry

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.”

Appalling

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.”

Fraud

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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Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Just do it already.

They could have done this earlier. However, there is an election coming. They will be doing this cos votes, not because it should have been done 20 (+/-) years ago.

Now ask the Cons how much is spent on Fujitsu contracts (420 million+??) and are they rolling any back. And are they removing the CBE from PO head involved.

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

All this could have been rectified several regimes ago but it’s been swept under many carpets by successive Ministers anxious to avoid acknowledging yet another systems disaster and gross overspend. Collusion at several levels which just highlights just how corrupt politicians, senior servants and leadership teams of our public services have become.

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Fujitsu picked up a plum contract from the Cons March 2023.
Got my figure wrong above.
https://www.theregister.com/2023/04/18/fujitsu_gets_142_million_uk/
This is how serious the UK government are to be seen to be doing the right thing. It votes, that is all this recent trumpet blowing is all about, but if it gets traction then good for the abused.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
1 month ago

Far be it from me to advise a prevaricating government on how to resolve this crime against innocents but how about exonerating everyone, not with a one size fits all statement but with a proper name clearing letter to EACH AND EVERY INDIVIDUAL accompanied by compensation at a level that would not require them ever to have to work again? Then of equal importance for full closure for the victims, rounding up the guilty and complicit and jailing them for a very long time? That would be the thing to do NOW and without further delay, wriggling or cover up.

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