The current Liberal Democrat leader – and formerly a minister with responsibility for the Post Office – has faced questions about whether he could have done more during his time in office
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has accused civil servants of lying to him over the scandal of wrongful convictions of Post Office staff stemming from the flawed Horizon software system.
Davey said yesterday that officials at the then-Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – where he was a junior coalition government minister from 2010 to 2012 – had misled him when he began asking questions about convictions of subpostmasters connected to the system.
More than 700 subpostmasters were convicted of theft, false accounting and fraud in the 15 years following the introduction of the Horizon system, produced by Fujitsu subsidiary ICL Pathway, in 1999. Hundreds more have faced accusations of wrongdoing.
While the scandal has been acknowledged for several years – and is the subject of a public inquiry that launched in 2020 – the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office has led to soaring public and political interest in the matter.
Alan Bates was a subpostmaster in north Wales and an early whistleblower of problems with Horizon. In 2009 he became a cofounder of the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance.
In an interview with Sky News this week, Davey said he had broached concerns raised by Bates in BIS when he was a junior minister in the department – only to receive untruthful responses.
“I wish I’d known then what we all know now,” Davey said. “The Post Office was lying on an industrial scale to me and other ministers. When I met Alan Bates and listened to his concerns, I put those concerns to officials in my department, to the Post Office and to the National Federation of Postmasters and it’s clear they all were lying to me.”
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Davey said his heart went out to subpostmasters who were victims of the scandal.
“We need to make sure their convictions are overturned and we need to make sure they are fairly compensated and quickly,” he said.
Davey was parliamentary undersecretary of state for employment relations and consumer affairs in the first two years of the Conservative-led coalition government. His responsibilities at BIS included the Post Office and postal policy.
Since the Horizon system went live Labour ministers, Conservative ministers and Lib Dems have held similar briefs. Kevin Hollinrake, parliamentary undersecretary of state responsible for enterprise, markets and small business at the Department for Business and Trade, currently holds the postal services brief.
Prompted by a surge in interest in the scandal, fuelled by Mr Bates vs The Post Office, Hollinrake told parliament yesterday that the government was keen to “speed up the whole process” of overturning scandal victims’ convictions.
“The Post Office scandal is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history, shaking people’s faith in the principles of equity and fairness that form the core pillars of our legal system,” Hollinrake said. “Watching last week’s ITV programme has only reinforced our zeal for seeing justice done as quickly as possible.”
He added that “full and final compensation” had already been paid to 64% of those people affected and that his main concerns were for those still waiting for compensation and over the slow pace at which criminal convictions related to Horizon are being overturned by the courts.
As interest in the scandal has intensified, a number of MPs have turned their attention to the role of Fujitsu, with former ministers from both Labour and Conservatives suggesting that the firm – which still holds hundreds of millions of pounds of government tech contracts – should be suspended from public procurement processes.