Failures of tech system led to more than 700 wrongful convictions
Credit: Robhullandemu/CC BY-SA 3.0 Image has been cropped
MPs have urged the chancellor to announce extra funding to ensure that hundreds of people wrongly convicted as part of the Post Office Horizon IT scandal are fully compensated.
Members of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee have called on the government to ensure that everyone impacted by the tech failure and its fallout is “fully compensated”.
In its interim report, the committee has also said an independent body is needed to oversee the process of overturning the wrongful prosecutions of sub-postmasters convicted based on Horizon evidence.
A statutory inquiry, led by retired High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams, is currently ongoing into the scandal, which was first uncovered in 2009. It is believed over 730 Post Office workers were wrongly convicted of crimes such as theft and fraud after they were wrongly blamed for errors caused by the Horizon accounting platform, which was developed by Fujitsu and implemented by the Post Office in 1999.
The convictions of 47 sub-postmasters, who run community post office franchises, have been overturned so far after they were wrongly blamed for accounting errors caused by the Horizon accounting system.
Darren Jones, Labour MP and chair of the BEIS committee, said the priority for the government should be ensuring funding is in place for all those affected.
“Everybody seems to agree that all of the victims should have full, fair, and final compensation,” he told PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome. “But the fact is that that is not being delivered for a number of reasons that we set out in the report. This sits now with the Chancellor. It’s not really in the business department’s [remit], it’s in the Treasury’s. Rishi Sunak has to sign the cheque in order to deliver that fair and final compensation and until he does that, it’s not gonna happen.”
He also said ministers needed to offer further compensation to the 555 sub-postmasters who are currently excluded from any future payouts, as the £57.75m they were collectively awarded in damages as part of a joint suit was considered “final”.
Campaigners have claimed, however, that once legal costs were accounted for, victims were left with only £20,000 each on average.
“It is clearly entirely unacceptable that the group of 555 victims who first brought this scandal successfully to court are being left in a worse position than those who are being compensated thanks to their action,” Jones said, commenting on the BEIS committee report. “There is no valid reason to exclude the 555 from being fully compensated and the Chancellor must come forward with the required funding now.”
Sub-postmasters have been eligible to apply for compensation via the Historical Shortfall Scheme, but it’s believed that as many as three in five are still waiting for a final offer.
Jones added that provisions should be made for the families of those who were affected by the scandal but died before they could be given proper compensation.
“Victims are dying, and obviously some of them have committed suicide. At the moment, the families are not allowed to have access to the compensation even though they’ve been affected,” he said.
The committee chair confirmed that the Parliamentary inquiry into the government’s involvement into the scandal would resume once the statutory inquiry has finished.