Victims of Post Office Horizon IT scandal are awarded millions more in compensation: Ministers announce further £19.5m will be paid to subpostmasters wrongly accused of stealing from their own tills
- Postal affairs minister announced award, which will total compensation to £30m
- Award will be given to eligible members of a group representing subpostmasters
- Paul Scully said he hopes the step will give ‘comfort’ to ‘pioneering postmasters’
Another £19.5million in compensation is being given to postmasters caught up in the Horizon computer system scandal, postal affairs minister Paul Scully has announced.
The award, which will be given to eligible members of a group representing subpostmasters, will take total compensation to around £30million.
Mr Scully said: ‘These postmasters and their families have shown immense courage in the face of terrible circumstances.
‘I hope this initial step provides some comfort to these pioneering postmasters while reaffirming our commitment to ensuring they receive their fair share in compensation.’
Starting in 1999, the Post Office began installing Horizon accounting systems – but faults in the software led to shortfalls in branches’ accounts.
Another £19.5million in compensation is being given to postmasters caught up in the Horizon computer system scandal, postal affairs minister Paul Scully (pictured) has announced
The Post Office demanded sub-postmasters cover the shortfalls, and in many cases wrongfully prosecuted them between 1999 and 2015 for false accounting or theft.
In 2019, a number of postmasters who had taken the first legal action against the Post Office over Horizon received £43million plus legal costs in a settlement, but much of this money was swallowed up by the associated costs of funding their case through the courts.
They were ineligible for the Historical Shortfall Scheme (HSS) which was subsequently set up to compensate other affected postmasters.
The Government confirmed in March that it would create a new scheme to ensure the group does not lose out, and Thursday’s interim payment will provide support while this scheme is finalised.
Mr Scully added: ‘Furthermore, I can confirm that members of the GLO group (High Court Group Litigation Order) will be able to claim reasonable legal fees as part of participating in the final compensation scheme.
Starting in 1999, the Post Office began installing Horizon accounting systems – but faults in the software led to shortfalls in branches’ accounts. The Post Office (pictured, file photo) demanded sub-postmasters cover the shortfalls, and in many cases wrongfully prosecuted them between 1999 and 2015 for false accounting or theft
‘I hope that this will allay any concerns that they might have about meeting the costs of seeking legal advice and support when applying to the scheme.’
What was the Horizon computer system and how did it go wrong?
Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of postmasters were sacked or prosecuted after money appeared to go missing from their branch accounts (file image)
Horizon, an IT system developed by the Japanese company Fujitsu, was rolled out by the Post Office from 1999.
The system was used for tasks such as transactions, accounting and stocktaking. However, subpostmasters complained about defects after it reported shortfalls – some of which amounted to thousands of pounds.
Some subpostmasters attempted to plug the gap with their own money, even remortgaging their homes, in an attempt to correct an error.
Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of subpostmasters were sacked or prosecuted due to the glitches. The ex-workers blamed flaws in the IT system, Horizon, but the Post Office denied there was a problem.
In case after case the Post Office bullied postmasters into pleading guilty to crimes they knew they had not committed.
Many others who were not convicted were hounded out of their jobs or forced to pay back thousands of pounds of ‘missing’ money.
The Post Office spent £32million to deny any fault in their IT system, before capitulating.
However, the postmasters and postmistresses said the scandal ruined their lives as they had to cope with the impact of a conviction and imprisonment, some while they had been pregnant or had young children.
Marriages broke down, and courts have heard how some families believe the stress led to health conditions, addiction and premature deaths.
More than 700 branch managers were given criminal convictions when faulty accounting software made it look as though money was missing from their sites.
It has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history, with dozens of convictions overturned and many more in line for compensation.
A Post Office spokesman said: ‘Ensuring full, fair and final compensation for all Horizon scandal victims is a priority as we put right the wrongs of the past.
‘Almost two-thirds of postmasters in the Historical Shortfall Scheme have received compensation offers, the majority of which are already paid.
‘We welcome the Government taking action on final, equitable compensation for the postmasters who were part of the group litigation settlement and those whose Horizon-related convictions are overturned.’
The people responsible for the harm caused by the Horizon computer system scandal will be ‘genuinely held accountable’, a minister has said.
Conservative MP for Telford Lucy Allan said that the people responsible for the harm caused by the Horizon scandal will be ‘genuinely held accountable’.
She told the Commons: ‘I remain deeply concerned about the role of Fujitsu, UK Government Investments and all those who sent ministers to this House even after the Justice Fraser judgment to say “nothing to see here”.
‘That was wrong, now I know Sir Wyn Williams is investigating, as the minister rightly said, but will he personally commit to ensuring that those individuals are held to account?’
Business minister Paul Scully replied: ‘Absolutely, I will. What I can’t do at this despatch box at this moment in time, having set up the statutory inquiry, is direct Sir Wyn to find any particular areas of finding.
‘It is for him to do, I want to keep him as the independent chair, but absolutely we want to make sure that lessons are learned and that people are genuinely held accountable.’
Conservative MP Duncan Baker has urged Paul Scully to look at the ‘remuneration structure’ for the existing postmasters, as ‘we are losing post offices up and down our high streets’.
The MP for North Norfolk and former postmaster told the Commons: ‘I say this as a former postmaster, I think the only one in the House, those who are responsible for this, including Fujitsu and the senior people within the Post Office, have to be held to account.
‘What I want to say to the minister is something different now, and that is please, please look at the remuneration structure for the existing postmasters out there. We are losing post offices up and down our high streets in our communities. The reason that we are doing that is because it is unviable sometimes to run a post office just as a stand-alone unit.
‘When communities lose them, we are struggling to get them back again. So, please, once this horrendous scandal is dealt with, look at remunerating them properly, so we can get this great institution back onto our high streets because, by goodness, we need them.’
The business minister replied: ‘We are not waiting until this is over. The Post Office, as I say, have conversations with sub-postmasters and their representatives all the time about remuneration. Part of this has to do with that future of the Post Office that I was talking about.’
He added: ‘This is why we need to work together to make sure that we can have that viable approach for the post offices, not just for economic value, but for social value as well.’
From wrongful imprisonment to strokes and even suicide: How the Horizon IT scandal devastated victims’ lives
Welsh postmaster jailed for nine months ‘fell off the ladder’ after conviction – before picking himself up and seeking challenge to Post Office prosecution
Noel Thomas was jailed for nine months in 2006 after he was accused of stealing £48,000
Noel Thomas was jailed for nine months in 2006 after he was accused of stealing £48,000 while he was working for the Post Office in Gaerwen on Anglesey.
He told the BBC that he admitted to the charge because he never reported discrepancies he noticed, but insisted he did not take the money and blamed the Horizon computer system.
‘I want everyone to have their name cleared and to get to the bottom of what has happened and where the money has gone to,’ Mr Thomas told BBC Newyddion 9.
‘Thirteen years after jail, I must admit it was hard but I gradually got my confidence back through family, friends and work colleagues.
‘Yes, I do feel bitter, and not just for myself – the Post Office have been coming and telling people that they have taken money, that they are a thief.’
Family of postmaster who killed himself after being wrongly accused of theft demand Post Office bosses are held accountable
Martin Griffiths, 59, took his own life in 2013 after he was falsely suspected of stealing money from Post Office
Father-of-two Martin Griffiths, 59, took his own life in 2013 after he was falsely suspected of stealing money from a Post Office in Ellesmere Port, where he had worked for around 20 years.
Mr Griffiths was one of hundreds of postmasters who were suspected of false accounting and theft, with some fired or wrongfully convicted, after amounts appeared to vanish from their tills.
The family of Mr Griffiths said he delved into his own savings and those of his parents to pay back around £60,000 he was wrongly suspected of taking from the branch.
The turmoil lasted for four years, between 2009 and 2013, and had a huge impact on the father-of-two’s physical and mental health, his family said.
In 2013, Mr Griffiths parked his car on the A41 in Ellesmere Port after leaving a note for his loved ones and took his own life.
His family have called for a stricter line of review from the Government and asked for a judge-led enquiry to get to the bottom of the injustices behind the scandal.
Postmaster caught up in major IT scandal which saw many falsely accused of accounting fraud suffered a STROKE after he was hounded for £65,000
Peter Murray said he suffered a series of breakdowns and a stroke after he was hounded for £65,000
Peter Murray said he suffered a series of breakdowns and a stroke after he was hounded for £65,000. The 53-year-old, from Wallasey in Merseyside, has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He said he was suspended without pay and forced to take out loans and borrow from friends to make monthly repayments to the Post Office.
He paid £1,000 a month before learning that he was among many sub-postmasters to face false accusations.
‘It left me completely devastated,’ added the father of three. ‘It caused absolute havoc for my family, I have had several nervous breakdowns. It made me feel like a convict, but I’m not going to let it beat me.’
Wife finally clears name of her postmaster husband after he died while still facing false Post Office claim he had stolen £46,000
Marion Holmes, 78, won justice for her late husband, Peter Holmes, who was a respected postmaster in Jesmond, Newcastle, before the Post Office Horizon scandal ‘destroyed’ his good name
Marion Holmes, 78, won justice for her husband, Peter, who was a respected postmaster before the Post Office Horizon scandal ‘destroyed’ his good name.
Ex-police officer Peter Holmes had successfully run a sub Post Office in Jesmond, Newcastle, for 13 years, before his world came crashing down due to issues with the Horizon computer system.
When more than £46,000 went missing from his books in 2008, Peter found police at his door and shocking criminal accusations made against him.
He was forced to admit four counts of false accounting in order to for prosecutors to drop charges of theft of the money, which could have seen him sent to prison.
In fact, Peter was one of a number of people wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office over errors its own system had made.
Family of one postmaster said he died a broken man after being forced to clean graves as punishment for a crime he did not commit
Julian Wilson (pictured with his wife Karen) was shattered by injustice and exhausted by his attempts to clear his name
Julian Wilson was shattered by injustice and exhausted by his attempts to clear his name, they said. He died in 2016, at the age of 67, of bowel cancer. His wife Karen says the disease had it roots in the trauma he endured and the all-consuming campaign for redemption.
For years the Post Office had stubbornly insisted its IT systems – called Horizon and designed by a company called Fujitsu – never lied, calling them ‘robust’.
Last year, following a court case brought by 557 postmasters, Mr Justice Fraser branded Horizon not ‘remotely robust’.
He added: ‘This approach by the Post Office has amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred.
‘It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat.’