Like many across the constituency, I am appalled by the treatment of the sub-postmasters who were accused of theft based on flawed evidence from the Horizon IT system. It is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history and ITV must be commended for their coverage of this issue bringing the scandal into sharp focus. 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 aware that nobody at either the Post Office or Fujitsu has been held directly accountable. The chair of the public inquiry, Sir Wyn Williams has published his interim report and I’ve been assured that Ministers will respond formally shortly. You can read Sir Wyn’s interim report here: https://www.postofficehorizoninquiry.org.uk/interim-report-compensation-17-july-2023
I know many in my constituency have called for the removal of honours of Paula Vennells CBE and as you may be aware Ms Vennells confirmed earlier this week she will be returning her CBE with immediate effect. I believe that this is the right decision. The Government's focus continues to be on ensuring all those whose lives were torn apart have swifter access to compensation and justice.
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. 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.
Notwithstanding, emergency legislation is being brought forward as soon as possible to overturn convictions of all those convicted in England and Wales on the basis of Post Office evidence given during the Horizon scandal. The Government will consider in the coming days whether to include the small number of cases that have already been considered by the appeals courts and their convictions upheld. This will clear people’s names and paves the way for innocent individuals to receive at least £600,000 in compensation. The Government recognises that this is an exceptional step, however these are exceptional circumstances.
The harm that these prosecutions have wreaked on the affected families over the past 20 years is irreparable. I was on the front bench in the Chamber of the House of Commons this week to hear Minister Hollinrake give assurances that his priority is setting right the wrongs and whilst in many cases it is almost impossible to make up for the harms, we must do all that is possible and must without doubt learn lessons to ensure this kind of injustice never happens again.