“Thank you for contacting me about the Post Office/Horizon IT scandal.
Like many of my Parliamentary colleagues across the House, I am appalled by the treatment of the sub-postmasters who were accused of theft based on flawed evidence from the Horizon IT system. Victims' accounts of the impact of these prosecutions are harrowing: some served prison sentences; many had their livelihoods and life savings decimated; marriages broke down; four committed suicide; others passed away before being able to clear their names; and many were ostracised by their local communities and as a result failed to find alternative work.
While we cannot undo the damage that has been done, we must establish what went wrong. I am concerned to learn that in December 1998, the Labour Government was aware that the Horizon IT system could be flawed and unreliable before it was rolled out, but decided to continue with it due to the “political fallout” from Post Office closures and damage to relations with Fujitsu should the contract be cancelled. I am concerned about the total disinterest and inaction by Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat Minister, and I am also concerned that nobody at either the Post Office or Fujitsu has been held directly accountable. This is being put right for the thousands of individuals and their families who have been victimised by this scandal. The Government launched a public inquiry in February 2021, however, in light of the rulings, the Government converted this public inquiry to a statutory footing which allows its Chair, Sir Wyn Williams, the necessary powers and time to conduct an in-depth analysis of the decision-making processes that led to the scandal. Sir Wyn published his interim report in July last year, and my ministerial colleagues will provide a formal response shortly. You can read Sir Wyn’s interim report here: https://www.postofficehorizoninquiry.org.uk/interim-report-compensation-17-july-2023
In the meantime, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has made it clear that the Horizon scandal is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history. Primary legislation, the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill will ensure that the trailblazers who exposed the scandal do not miss out on compensation because of an arbitrary deadline. The Government is determined to make compensation claims as soon as possible, and by the current deadline of August 2024. However, time needs to be taken to assess more complex claims, so postmasters receive full and fair compensation and are not unduly rushed into making a decision on their claims. Legislation will also ensure that those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal are swiftly exonerated.
To date, more than £148 million has been paid to 2,700 victims across all compensation schemes, 93 convictions have been overturned and, of those, 30 have agreed full and final settlements. Just over £30 million has been paid out in compensation to those with overturned convictions, including interim payments.
Of the original 555 courageous postmasters who took the Post Office to court and who first brought the Horizon scandal into the public eye, £27 million has been paid out to 477 claimants in addition to the net £11 million received through the December 2019 settlement. Forty-seven members of the original Group Litigation Order (GLO) group have also received compensation following the overturning of their convictions, totalling more than £17 million. The Government has received full claim forms from 59 of those postmasters who are eligible for the GLO scheme and issued 43 offers. There have been 21 full and final settlements paid and a further seven full and final settlements accepted. That brings the total number of accepted full and final GLO settlements to 28.
It is worth noting that the 2,417 postmasters who claimed through the original Horizon shortfall scheme have all received offers of compensation. Around 85 per cent have accepted those offers, worth over £107 million. In total, over £91 million has been paid out through the scheme, with the Post Office now dealing with late applications and with cases where initial offers were not accepted. The harm that these prosecutions have wreaked on the affected families over the past 20 years is irreparable. Lessons should and will be learnt to ensure that an injustice of this magnitude never happens again.
I am urging any local sub-postmasters and postmistresses who were affected by the Post Office Horizon system to claim compensation and clear their name, and contact me if they need my support to do so.
Sally-Ann Hart MP.”