Horizon scandal: MPs back sub-postmasters to get ‘full, fair and final compensation’
MPs have come out in support of the victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal, calling for full compensation for the sub-postmasters affected.
A new report by a cross-party Business Department Select Committee said this week that it is “unacceptable” that the 555 sub-postmasters, who originally brought the case to court, have lost out on money because of huge legal bills.
More than 700 branch managers were given criminal convictions between 2000 and 2014 when faulty accounting software called Horizon made it look as if money was missing.
555 sub-postmasters from the original group took the Post Office to the High Court in 2019, where they proved that the accounting errors were at fault.
The settlement agreement signed at the time said the group would not seek further compensation or legal action.
However, ministers and the Post Office have come out to say that they believe victims should have “full, fair and final compensation”.
The committee have called for this to be extended to families of sub-postmasters who have died since the action was first brought.
In terms of who will be footing the bill, there have suggestions for a counterclaim against Fujitsu, the Horizon software maker, to recover the costs, removing the heavy burden from the taxpayer’s pockets.
On top of this, the committee also questioned the Herbert Smith Freehill’s involvement in the case. The City law firm had previously advised the Lloyds Banking Group to compensate victims of fraud on a scheme which was found to have serious shortcomings.
How money was ‘lost’
The accounting errors occurred whenever internet connection was lost. This was more of a common occurrence in the 1990s, when many of the claims were first brought.
If the internet connection dropped out when a transaction was being sent by the Post Office and a postmaster attempted to re-send it, the Horizon system would log it as a new transaction, thereby over-calculating the amount of money collected.
Some postmasters tried to compensate for the system’s mistakes using their own money to plug the gaps of missing cash. Some even mortgaged their homes and found themselves in financial ruin as a result.
Many faced backlash from their local communities at the time, were shunned by their communities, who believed them untrustworthy, while others struggled to find new work.
Just this afternoon, one of the former workers giving evidence told the inquiry that she ended up having a “complete breakdown” after faulty accounting software wrongly made it seem like she was stealing.
Wendy Martin, who ran a post office in York, said the faulty Horizon system “devastated” her health and finances.
“My worst discrepancy one day was over £30,000,” she said, adding that this was an amount she would effectively owe the Post Office. “It was awful”.