Post Office 'not fit' to oversee compensation for Horizon victims, say MPs

The Business and Trade Committee has called for the Post Office to be completely removed from overseeing compensation schemes

MPs on a parliamentary committee say the Post Office is "not fit" to handle compensation schemes for victims of the Horizon scandal.

The Business and Trade Committee has called for the Post Office to be completely removed from overseeing compensation schemes, in a report released on Thursday.

The report concluded the company is “not fit for purpose to administer any of the schemes of redress required to make amends for one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history”.

The committee has now demanded an independent body be established to help victims “through every stage of their compensation claims” – describing the current redress process as an “abject failure”.

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Post Office chief executive Nick Read has also been accused of supplying “misleading evidence” to MPs relating to the company’s use of non-disclosure agreements and PR firms.

The report also calls for legally binding deadlines for when redress should be delivered to affected sub-postmasters in order to stop “unacceptable delays” – an idea suggested by lead campaigner Alan Bates during his evidence to MPs last week.

Chairman of the committee, Liam Byrne, labelled it a “national disgrace” that “only £1 in £5 of the budget for compensation has been issued” to sub-postmasters.

The report also recommends removing a cap on victims’ legal expenses and the introduction of a standardised set of tariffs to help estimate what they are entitled to.

Mr Byrne said: “Justice delayed is justice denied. And bluntly justice has been denied to our innocent sub-postmasters for far too long.

“It’s high time for the circus of recent weeks to end and for cheques to start landing on the doormats of innocent victims.

“We now know the Post Office knew of problems 20 years ago."

Mr Bryne also criticised the public spat between the current Post Office boss and the former chairman.

After both men gave evidence at the committee last week, former chairman Henry Staunton - who had been accused of bullying by Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch - shocked MPs when he revealed that current CEO Nick Read was also under investigation, citing an 80-page HR report about him.

“The spectacle of the battle between the Post Office chief executive and its former chairman light up a simple truth; that the top of the Post Office is in utter disarray and not fit for purpose to run the payouts to former sub-postmasters."

There had also been a public row between Mr Staunton and Ms Badenoch, after he alleged he was told by a senior civil servant to stall on compensation claims ahead of the election.

Ms Badenoch and the senior civil servant in question both denied the allegations, and the business secretary accused Mr Staunton of lying as part of a "blatant attempt to seek revenge" after she sacked him.

Pressure has been mounting on both the Post Office and the government to properly compensate victims of the Horizon scandal following the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

There are a number of different compensation schemes aimed at different groups of victims - the three main ones are:

  • The Group Litigation Order (GLO scheme) was set up for 555 sub-postmasters who won a case at the High Court in 2019. They were given a £42.5 million settlement at the time, but after legal costs that didn't amount to much per person.

  • The Overturned Convictions scheme if for people whose convictions have been quashed. There were 983 convictions during the scandal.

  • The Horizon Shortfall Scheme is for people who weren't convicted or part of the GLO court action. Instead it's for people who believe they experienced shortfalls because of the Horizon system.

More than 700 branch managers were prosecuted by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 after faulty Horizon accounting software made it look as though money was missing from their shops.

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