Kevin Foster MP comments on the Post Office Scandal:
Whilst I have not had chance to watch the ITV programme myself, I am aware of the appalling treatment of the sub-postmasters who were wrongly 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.
The scandal itself occurred before my time in Parliament, but I congratulate my former colleagues, like Lord James Arbuthnot, and current colleagues including Kevan Jones MP and Nadhim Zahawi MP (Who played himself in the ITV drama) who supported those affected and helped bring this scandal to light. This contrasts to the actions of Sir Ed Davey, who as then Postal Services Minister, refused even to meet Alan Bates to hear his case.
Yesterday (08/01/2024) the Government gave a statement to the House of Commons, which you can watch by following the link below:
The Minister giving the statement had, as a Backbencher, campaigned on behalf of Sub-Postmasters affected, so is acutely aware of the need to make rapid progress. Two hours of questions followed.
In terms of further debates in the House of Commons, as a Member of the Backbench Business Committee, I know myself and other members of the Committee would be very happy to consider applications for a debate on this matter in order to allot some of the time available to us. There was also a full day's debate on compensation for those affected by this scandal held in the House of Commons on Tuesday 19th December 2023.
Whilst many convictions based on flawed Horizon evidence have already been overturned, I welcome moves to look at how this can be done on a larger scale, as has been done since 2015 with convictions from past decades based on now repealed homophobic laws. The ability of the Post Office to prosecute cases itself should also be reconsidered, independent review of files by the CPS or Police may have helped bring this scandal to an end much sooner. Although this is almost certain to be a point the inquiry I mention below will cover.
I am aware nobody at either the Post Office or Fujitsu has been held directly accountable so far, yet I fully agree with the sentiments of my friend and colleague Priti Patel MP (Her Dad was a Sub-Postmaster) writing in The Sun. You can read her thoughts by following this link:
The Government has placed a public inquiry into the scandal on 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 led to the scandal. Sir Wyn has already publish his interim report on Compensation, and my ministerial colleagues will provide a formal response shortly. You can read Sir Wyn’s interim report here:
The Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill, which cleared the House of Commons on Tuesday 19th December, will ensure the trailblazers who exposed the scandal do not miss out on compensation because of an arbitrary deadline. I understand 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. The UK Government has also announced every Postmaster who was wrongfully convicted and has had their conviction overturned as it was reliant on Horizon evidence will be offered an optional sum of up to £600,000 in compensation.
All reasonable legal fees will continue to be covered and any Postmaster who does not want to accept this offer can continue with the existing process. Those postmasters who have already received initial compensation payments or have reached a settlement with the Post Office of less than the £600,000, will be paid the difference to ensure they don’t lose out.
In total, £132 million has been paid to over 2,700 claimants across the Horizon Shortfall Scheme, Overturned Convictions Scheme and Group Litigation Order scheme.
Finally, all those involved with this scandal at a senior level in the Post Office should not retain any honours they received due to their role given the damage done to the service and those affected. It is therefore right Paula Vennells returned her CBE, but it should not have taken the recent ITV Drama to shame her into doing so.