An MP has criticised the offer of £600,000 compensation for every Post Office worker who has had their wrongful Horizon conviction overturned, claiming it is “a gun to their head”.
The government announced on Monday that every post office operator who was caught up in the Horizon IT scandal and wrongfully convicted will receive £600,000 in compensation.
But Andy McDonald MP has urged the business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch to make the payouts interim compensation rather than a full and final settlement.
Speaking at the House of Commons business and trade select committee this afternoon, McDonald said: “I’ve got to say £600,000 pounds for somebody who’s lost their livelihood, lost their career, lost their homes, been imprisoned in many cases… I would have expected the scheduled special damages and future loss to run into seven figures in many cases.
“I’m very concerned that these postmasters who have been through hell and back are now having in effect a gun held to their head and told ‘you’ve got £600,000 on the table, you can bring this to a close’ when their proper compensation would be a wholly different figure.”
He added: “Why cannot the department say instead of £600,000 pounds in full and final settlement, £600,000 as an instrument of payment and let people receive that proper and full compensation?”
But Badenoch insisted: “What complicates it certainly for me as a decision maker is that the inquiry is still ongoing. So we’re doing this in tandem with an inquiry which I have absolutely no control over.
“When I hear stories about people dying, it’s what we can do now to at least alleviate these situations. I’m using the levers that I have.”
And David Bickerton, director general for business, said it had been challenging for those involved to be “locked in a litigation process ever since the injustice was done to them”.
He said the compensation announcement was an “attempt to delegalise” that.
McDonald urged the minister to “go away and think about whether this can be converted into an interim payment rather than full and final settlement”.
More than 700 Post Office staff were prosecuted from 1999 to 2015 for theft, fraud and false accounting due to faulty accounting software and 86 have so far seen them overturned.
Ministers said the offer was as well as paying legal fees and anyone who did not want to accept it could continue with the ongoing legal process. Anyone who has received initial compensation or reached a settlement of less than £600,000 will be paid the difference.
Bickerton also said that were all the payments not completed by the deadline of August 2024 it would be extended at that stage – but he did not want to extend it now and “slow progress”.