Post Office Horizon scandal: The unanswered questions that remain

The ITV drama has prompted renewed interest in the scandal, and there are still many questions that have yet to be answered. Credit: ITV

Conversations around the Post Office scandal have come to the fore in the last two weeks after the release of ITV drama Mr Bates Vs the Post Office.

The four-part series tells the story of the injustice faced by more than 700 sub-postmasters who were charged with fraud and theft due to a faulty IT system.

The drama has prompted renewed interest in the scandal, and today MPs have been questioning the current bosses of the Post Office and Fujitsu. 

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When will the victims get compensation?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced last week he would quash the convictions of all the victims of the scandal, but sub-postmasters are still left wondering when they will receive full compensation.

So far the government has spent £138 million on compensating people who were wrongfully convicted, but Number 10 have confirmed victims would be eligible for an additional £75,000 upfront payment.

Victims Alan Bates and Jo Hamilton were questioned by the Business and Trade Committee on Monday.

Mr Bates said the compensation schemes are “bogged down in red tape”, and described the whole process as “madness”.

Alan Bates gave evidence remotely to the Business and Trade Committee Credit: PA

Ms Hamilton said the compensation process is “almost like you’re being retried … it just goes on and on and on.”

Multi-billion-pound company Fujitsu was behind the faulty Horizon IT system, and typically receives more than £100 million in ongoing UK government contracts each year.

Fujitsu’s European boss Paul Patterson admitted to MPs that the company has a “moral obligation” to contribute to the compensation for sub-postmasters. 

Mr Patterson said that he has spoken to the company’s bosses in Japan and the company expects to have a conversation with the government about how much compensation it should pay.

But it will be up to the inquiry into the scandal to decide whether the tech firm was at fault, and the inquiry isn’t due to conclude until 2025.

The ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office has shone light on the scandal. Credit: ITV

How much did the Post Office really know?

A lot of the ITV drama about the scandal looked at how much the Post Office knew about the software errors, and how Post Office bosses covered up the real problem by using sub-postmasters as scapegoats.

Alan Bates told MPs that “everyone’s going to be surprised about how much was known” by the Post Office and the government about what was going wrong with the Horizon system.

One of the key issues is whether staff at Fujitsu could remotely access individual branch accounts without sub-postmasters knowing. 

Paul Patterson of Fujitsu admitted there was remote access to the Horizon system, despite the Post Office’s repeated denials.

He said: “The support and the interventions remotely from Fujitsu has been documented and it is clear the Post Office was certainly aware of that remote access, and that was clear for some period of time.”

But the current boss of the Post Office Nick Read refused to say when the Post Office first knew remote access was possible: “I couldn’t give you an exact date on that.”

Mr Read also described a “culture of denial” at the Post Office when challenged over why his organisation resisted giving compensation to victims for so long.

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Where did the money go?

The current boss of the Post Office said he still doesn’t know where the extra money paid by sub-postmasters to cover shortfalls went.

Mr Read admitted the money may have gone into the pay of Post Office bosses, but that they are still looking into what actually happened.

Jo Hamilton said she believed the cash she paid back was “hoovered into profit and loss” by the Post Office, and that “it’s gone”.

Asked how she would feel if some top Post Office executives potentially received some of her money in form of bonuses, she told MPs: “It’s sickening really, to be honest.”

Watch the trailer for ITV's Mr Bates vs the Post Office

Is Fujitsu to blame?

Fujitsu Europe director Paul Patterson apologised to sub-postmasters as he appeared before MPs, accepting the company's responsibility in the scandal for the first time.

He told the Business and Trade Committee: “To the sub-postmasters and their families, Fujitsu would like to apologise for our part in this appalling miscarriage of justice.

“We were involved from the very start. We did have bugs and errors in the system. And we did help the Post Office in their prosecutions of sub-postmasters. For that we are truly sorry.”

The European boss of Fujitsu also admitted to MPs the company gave evidence which was used to send innocent people to prison during the Horizon scandal.

When asked if the Japanese technology firm’s evidence was used for this evidence, Paul Patterson, chief executive of Europe for Fujitsu Services, said: “Yes, there was evidence from us … we were supporting the Post Office in their prosecutions.”

How many more people could be impacted by this scandal?

Many more victims have come forward since the release of the ITV drama, but the extent of scandal’s impact is still unknown.

Post Office boss Nick Read said it has seen “some 200 postmasters come forward” since Mr Bates vs The Post Office was aired, with 31 coming to the Post Office directly. 

Lawyer Neil Hudgell also told MPs the scandal could be impacting “tens of thousands” of people if the families of affected sub-postmasters are taken into account.

He said the spouses, children and parents of the victims also had their lives damaged, including some who took their own lives and had miscarriages caused by the stress.

Mr Hudgell also referenced children who now have behavioural problems and had to be taken out of school because of the strain of the scandal.

Acknowledging how hard it would be to compensate all these people, Mr Hudgell said this was “another strand of this scandal that needs to be looked at”.

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