Cleared subpostmasters deserve swift compensation settlement, says Government
Former subpostmasters wrongly convicted of offences must be “fairly compensated” as quickly as possible, the Government has said.
Business minister Paul Scully also told MPs he expects a Government-commissioned inquiry on the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting system to report to him by this summer.
But Conservative and opposition MPs issued fresh demands for the immediate launch of a statutory independent inquiry which would have more wide-ranging powers in a bid to uncover the truth behind the scandal.
Hundreds of subpostmasters were prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting because of the Horizon system, with 39 having their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal last week.
Mr Scully, in a statement on the judgment, told the House of Commons: “Postmasters whose convictions were quashed last week will also be now turning to the question of appropriate compensation, which I know will again be of great interest to the House.
“The judgment last week will require careful consideration by all involved.
“The Government wants to see all postmasters whose convictions have been overturned fairly compensated as quickly as possible – and we’ll work with the Post Office towards this goal.”
At a hearing last month, the court heard 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 IT system had “faults and bugs from the earliest days of its operation”.
Lawyers representing other subpostmasters confirmed they have more than 70 other appeals or potential appeals at various stages of the legal process.
On the ongoing inquiry, Mr Scully said: “To ensure the right lessons have been learnt and to establish what must change, the Government launched an independent inquiry led by ex-High Court judge Wyn Williams in September last year.
“The inquiry has made swift progress already, having heard from a number of affected postmasters, and a call for evidence has recently closed. The inquiry is now planning for public hearings.
“The Horizon dispute has been long-running and for the benefit of everyone involved it’s important the inquiry reaches its conclusions swiftly and I look forward to receiving Sir Wyn’s report later this summer.
“As the Prime Minister said, lessons should and will be learnt to ensure this never happens again.”
In response to other questions on a new inquiry, Mr Scully said Sir Wyn is getting “all of the support” from the parties involved but noted: “If that changes, our thoughts, our advice will change – but at the moment it’s working well.”
For Labour, shadow business minister Chi Onwurah described the Horizon scandal as the “largest legal miscarriage of justice in our history”.
She said: “To add insult to injury, the Government is failing to deliver the proper statutory public inquiry that postmasters, their families and the British public deserve, because let us be clear – Friday’s judgement vindicates the postmasters.”
Conservative Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) said: “Will the current minister concede that given the huge miscarriage of justice now fully exposed, including the 10-year attempted cover-up by the Post Office itself, that only a full public inquiry and an independent compensation panel for the victims will now suffice to finally lance this boil?”
Mr Scully replied: “As I say, there is an independent inquiry which is looking into the actions of the Post Office and indeed the responsibility of Government within this – and everybody is participating fully within that.
“In terms of making sure that we can lance the boil, as I say, the Post Office has launched a historic shortfalls scheme which has started to make payments and I know those people who have had their convictions rightly quashed last Friday will be turning to compensation – and we will be making sure the Post Office addresses this in quick order.”
Conservative former minister Sir John Redwood said the Government must now apologise by making sure subpostmasters get proper compensation”.
Andrew Mitchell, another Conservative former minister, said the Commons must recognise this was a “grotesque breach of human rights and civil liberties” of up to 555 subpostmasters.