Like many of my Parliamentary colleagues across the House, I am appalled by the treatment of the sub-postmasters who were accused of theft based on flawed evidence from the Horizon IT system. 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.
I am pleased to see that 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. The Government recognises that this is an exceptional step, however these are exceptional circumstances.
As you may be aware, Paula Vennells has confirmed she will hand back her CBE. 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.
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. However, in light of the rulings, the Government converted a public inquiry into the affair to a statutory footing which allows its Chair, Sir Wyn Williams, the necessary powers and time to conduct an in-depth analysis of the decision-making processes that led to the scandal. I understand that Sir Wyn has publish his interim report, and my ministerial colleagues will provide a formal response shortly. You can read Sir Wyn’s interim report here: https://www.postofficehorizoninquiry.org.uk/interim-report-compensation…
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.
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.
The harm that these prosecutions have wreaked on the affected families over the past 20 years is irreparable. Lessons should and will be learnt to ensure that an injustice of this magnitude never happens again.