Post Office workers wrongly accused of stealing still awaiting payouts

The Liberal Democrat leader has accused Post Office bosses of misleading him over the Horizon IT scandal in which hundreds of branch owner-operators were wrongly prosecuted.

Ed Davey, who was postal affairs minister between 2010 and 2012 when the software issues started coming to light, said he regretted not doing more to help victims who were wrongly accused of stealing but claimed that executives had blocked him from meeting campaigners.

Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “I feel that I was deeply misled by Post Office executives … they didn’t come clean. There were definitely attempts to stop me meeting [campaigners].

“We were clearly misled. I think ministers from all political parties were misled.”

On Monday, ITV began broadcasting Mr Bates vs the Post Office, a four-part drama charting the fight for justice by branch owner-operators wrongly prosecuted because of faults in the Horizon computer system being used to help with accounting.

Alan Bates, who is played by Toby Jones in the drama, has claimed he approached Davey, then postal affairs minister, in 2010 but the Lib Dem MP said he did not believe a meeting “would serve any purpose”.

This week, Davey said Post Office executives were now “dragging their feet” and “not bringing evidence to the inquiry”.

He added: “Government ministers need to do more – I hope they watch this series and realise they’ve got to come forward with a proper compensation package.”

Post Office workers celebrate with their supporters outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London in April 2021.
Post Office workers celebrate with their supporters outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London in April 2021. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

On Wednesday, Post Office workers wrongly accused of stealing as a result of the Horizon faults said many were still waiting for compensation four years after winning a landmark court case proving their innocence.

Between 1999 and 2015 the Post Office relentlessly pursued branch owner-operators across the UK for alleged theft, fraud and false accounting, despite knowing there were faults in Horizon IT software they were using, resulting in more than 700 prosecutions.

The scandal has often been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.

In 2019, a group of Post Office operators won a high court case in which their convictions were ruled wrongful. That was after a prosecution process that had ruined lives and had been linked to four suicides. Dozens of victims have died without receiving compensation.

“Some have been waiting over 20 years and suffering for far too long,” said Bates told the Mirror. “It’s money they are owed. Don’t extend the deadline for payments because you can’t extend people’s lives.”

Noel Thomas, who was sentenced to nine months in prison in 2006 after but whose conviction was quashed in 2021, said: “I might never see [full compensation] because a lot of my friends have gone. A lot of people I met from this process have passed away.”

Others have told heartbreaking stories about the financial and personal ramifications of being prosecuted and convicted to the public inquiry into the scandal.

Siobhan Sayer was separated from her distressed six-month-old daughter when investigators visited her home in 2008 seeking £18,000 in funds missing from her Post Office business.

Pauline Thomson, who ultimately avoided jail, spoke of how she was sentenced on the day her granddaughter was born.

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Lee Castleton, who called the Post Office’s helpline 91 times as he suspected the Horizon IT system was at fault, had to represent himself in court as he could not afford a lawyer and was made bankrupt after a two-year legal effort to try to clear his name.

A member of the Post Office’s legal team told the inquiry it knew Castleton would not be able to pay costs of £321,000 if he lost but the state-owned company wanted to “show the world” it would defend the Horizon system.

The 2019 ruling paved the way for millions of pounds of future payouts, and led to the court of appeal quashing the convictions of workers who were wrongly accused of committing crimes. However, there have been concerns about delays to the payments and further blunders – including tax being charged on the compensation.

By last month, 142 appeal case reviews had been completed out of 900 people convicted during the scandal, with 93 convictions overturned and 54 upheld, withdrawn or refused permission to appeal.

A total of £24m has been paid out in relation to overturned convictions.

In September, ministers announced that every branch owner-operator whose wrongful conviction had been overturned would receive £600,000 in compensation from the government.

The overturned convictions process is one of three different compensation schemes that have been set up as the scandal has developed.

More than £130m has so far been paid to about 2,500 Post Office workers across the three schemes. However, last month it emerged that the Post Office had almost halved the amount set aside for payouts as fewer owner-operators than expected had won or brought appeals.

The Post Office said in its annual results the year to the end of March that it was now holding £244m for compensation payments, down from £487m a year ago, after 38% of appeals against convictions were either turned down, withdrawn or unsuccessful.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “We’re acutely aware of the human cost of the scandal and we’re doing all we can to provide redress both in respect of paying compensation and assisting the Horizon IT Inquiry. The Inquiry was set up to establish independently what went wrong in the past and accountability. It would be inappropriate to comment separately from the proceedings of the inquiry.”


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