MPs have called on the government to fully compensate victims of the Post Office Horizon miscarriage of justice ‘as a matter of urgency’. An interim report of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee published yesterday criticised the ‘perverse situation’ of the more than 500 former Post Office workers who successfully challenged the Post Office in a group litigation but had been denied access to what’s known as the historic shortfall compensation scheme.
Those who exposed the Horizon scandal through their successful claim were excluded from the scheme which opened in 2020, despite most of them having their court ordered compensation swallowed up by legal costs. The report said: ‘We are deeply disappointed that the 555 group action litigants, who took the Post Office to court and who exposed the Horizon scandal, should be worse off than other victims of Horizon who would otherwise not be in a position to make claims. It is a perverse situation that the prolonged legal proceedings and the resulting delay to the Post Office’s decision to settle have reduced the compensation the 555 were entitled to.’
The MPs said that the responsibility ‘for addressing this injustice lies with the Government’. ‘Consideration should be given to recompense the legal fees of the 555 as an initial payment whilst full determination is considered.’ Evidence seen by the committee shows that those 555 sub-postmasters who brought the successful litigation were awarded £57.65 million, but it was estimated that £46 million was used to cover legal fees which had to be paid after the case was won. This left only £20,000 for each sub-postmaster, regardless of the fact some lost substantially more than this. Their plight was compounded by the government’s decision not to grant them access to the historic shortfall scheme, which was open only to those who had not participated in the group action.
One victim of the scandal, speaking at the public inquiry that commenced this week, testified that when the group litigation concluded she received £24,000. She used this money to a pay off a credit card she had used to pay debts she had arising from the Post Office and a loan she took from her father. Despite this, she had remaining losses of £8,000 spent covering shortfalls caused by the faulty accounting software, £145,000 from the lost value of her business which was forced to close, and to date she has outstanding business loans of over £14,000.
She told the inquiry the compensation she received from the litigation ‘barely dented’ what she has lost, adding ‘as things stand, I will probably never be out of debt.’
Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, the head of the miscarriage of justice watchdog the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) Helen Pitcher said compensation should be paid ‘in all haste’. When asked why so many victims of the scandal have not yet had their convictions overturned, or accessed the compensation scheme, Pitcher said this was in part due to individuals not responding to correspondence from the Post Office about what they may be entitled to. She confirmed the CCRC have now taken over the task of making contact with any individuals who are outstanding, and that the body would immediately be contacting all victims yet to come forward to advise them of what their routes to justice are.
Meanwhile, the CCRC welcomed a proposal from the Post Office to directly contact the wrongly convicted subpostmasters and subpostmistresses. According to the CCRC, ‘around 200 out of approximately 500 people have not responded to Post Office efforts to contact them’. ‘This is a very welcome development,’ commented Pitcher. ‘Our team will want to progress this proposal quickly to ensure those who want to have their convictions overturned can get that process started. We also want to get the message out that the CCRC is independent, and that applying to us is free of charge.’
To date, the watchdog has had 118 Post Office applications, with the first applications lodged in 2015. It has referred 58 cases to the appeal courts, of which 53 have been successful and it is currently reviewing 32 live cases.