Post Office staff NO closer to receiving compensation over Horizon

Post Office staff who were wrongly prosecuted in Horizon IT scandal say they are NO closer to receiving compensation a year after appeal judges overturned their convictions

  • Innocent Post Office subpostmasters are ‘no closer’ to receiving compensation
  • Hundreds of staff were wrongly convicted for losses caused by Horizon IT
  • The scandal led to wrongful prosecutions for theft, fraud and false accounting
  • Court of Appeal in central London last year overturned convictions  

Dozens of innocent Post Office subpostmasters who were wrongly convicted in one of Britain’s biggest ever miscarriages of justice have said they are no closer to gaining compensation a year after appeal judges quashed their criminal records.

Neil Hudgell, the lawyer leading compensation negotiations, has now called for cases to be settled by the end of the year to prevent the victims facing further financial ruin. 

Hundreds of staff were blamed by the Post Office for losses in branch accounts caused by serious flaws in the Fujitsu-developed Horizon computer system which was in use between 1999 and 2015.

Rather than admit the IT system was defective, the Post Office concealed evidence of the glitches and instead forced its own staff to plead guilty to crimes they knew they had not committed, lawyers representing those who sought to get their convictions overturned last year said.

Many postmasters and postmistresses were prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting, while others were hounded out of work or forced to pay huge sums of ‘missing’ money. 

The scandal blighted their lives, as former staff lost their homes and marriages, and suffered ill health as a result. 

Former Post Office workers celebrating outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, in April 2021 after their convictions were overturned by appeal judges

Stock image of a Post Office sign hanging on the wall

Horizon, an IT system developed by the Japanese company Fujitsu, was rolled out by the Post Office from 1999.

The system was used for tasks such as transactions, accounting and stocktaking. However, subpostmasters complained about defects after it reported shortfalls – some of which amounted to thousands of pounds.  

Some subpostmasters attempted to plug the gap with their own money, even remortgaging their homes, in an attempt to correct an error.

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of subpostmasters were sacked or prosecuted due to the glitches. The ex-workers blamed flaws in the IT system, Horizon, but the Post Office denied there was a problem.

In case after case the Post Office bullied postmasters into pleading guilty to crimes they knew they had not committed. Many others who were not convicted were hounded out of their jobs or forced to pay back thousands of pounds of ‘missing’ money.

The Post Office spent £32million to deny any fault in their IT system, before capitulating. 

However, the postmasters and postmistresses said the scandal ruined their lives as they had to cope with the impact of a conviction and imprisonment. Marriages broke down, and courts have heard how some families believe the stress led to health conditions, addiction and premature deaths.

One former postmaster, Martin Griffiths, killed himself after he was falsely suspected of stealing £60,000, while others have died and ‘gone to their graves’ with convictions against their names.

Thirty-nine long-standing convictions were quashed at the Court of Appeal in central London on April 23 last year, and the number has since risen to 73.

Mr Hudgell said: ‘We need to bring these cases to a close in the course of this calendar year so these decent, honest people can move on with their lives and finally enjoy some peace of mind.

‘Many feel strongly that their ongoing suffering continues to be used as a lever to make derisory settlement offers.

‘For some poor subpostmasters time has beaten them, they have died or lost capacity. For others the clock is ticking quickly too. Perhaps the words of one subpostmaster to me best sums up the current position.

‘They said: ‘I’m concerned now that the interim payment has run out, just settling personal loans, debts and essential house repairs – my freezer, washer and microwave have all packed up over recent months, and now my boiler.

‘I may no longer be a criminal but I’m still very much a victim.

‘The Post Office continues to control my life and cause me stress and sleepless nights’.’

Mr Hudgell added that although most subpostmasters have received interim payments from the Post Office, they feel that these payments have only been given so the institution can feel like ‘they have been doing them a favour’ instead of handing back money wrongly taken.

He called for another round of interim payments to settle agreed losses, and an early dispute resolution with Post Office lawyers to resolve ongoing issues, adding: ‘We are poles apart in how we value some of the losses suffered by the subpostmasters.’

The Court of Appeal has previously heard that many subpostmasters’ lives were ‘irreparably ruined’ as they lost their jobs, homes and marriages after they were prosecuted by the Post Office – which knew the Fujitsu-developed Horizon system had ‘faults and bugs from the earliest days of its operation’.

Hundreds of people who ran Post Office branches were convicted of offences – including theft and false accounting – during the period of time the system was being used.

The Post Office said they have provided ‘swift financial relief’ with interim payments of up to £100,000 to the ‘overwhelming majority’ of the 73 people whose convictions were overturned.

Former post office worker Noel Thomas, who was convicted of false accounting in 2006, celebrates with his daughter Sian outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal, Friday April 23, 2021 

A spokesperson said: ‘We are sincerely sorry for the impact of the Horizon scandal on the lives of victims and their families. We are in no doubt about the human cost. 

‘Whilst we cannot change the past, we have taken determined action to ensure that justice is provided for people affected, together with full, fair and final compensation.

‘We have provided swift financial relief with interim payments of up to £100,000 to the overwhelming majority of the 73 people who have had convictions overturned, ahead of final settlements.

‘Separately, we have made compensation offers to more than half of people who applied to the Historical Shortfall Scheme, and of those the majority have already been accepted and paid. Offers and payments continue to be made every week.’

The Post Office added that it is ‘co-operating fully, openly and transparently’ with the ongoing statutory inquiry led by Sir Wyn Williams while making ‘fundamental’ internal reforms.

From wrongful imprisonment to strokes and even suicide: How the Horizon IT scandal devastated victims’ lives 

Welsh postmaster jailed for nine months ‘fell off the ladder’ after conviction – before picking himself up and seeking challenge to Post Office prosecution

Noel Thomas was jailed for nine months in 2006 after he was accused of stealing £48,000

Noel Thomas was jailed for nine months in 2006 after he was accused of stealing £48,000 while he was working for the Post Office in Gaerwen on Anglesey.

He told the BBC that he admitted to the charge because he never reported discrepancies he noticed, but insisted he did not take the money and blamed the Horizon computer system.

‘I want everyone to have their name cleared and to get to the bottom of what has happened and where the money has gone to,’ Mr Thomas told BBC Newyddion 9.

‘Thirteen years after jail, I must admit it was hard but I gradually got my confidence back through family, friends and work colleagues.

‘Yes, I do feel bitter, and not just for myself – the Post Office have been coming and telling people that they have taken money, that they are a thief.’

Family of postmaster who killed himself after being wrongly accused of theft demand Post Office bosses are held accountable

Martin Griffiths, 59, took his own life in 2013 after he was falsely suspected of stealing money from Post Office

Father-of-two Martin Griffiths, 59, took his own life in 2013 after he was falsely suspected of stealing money from a Post Office in Ellesmere Port, where he had worked for around 20 years. 

Mr Griffiths was one of hundreds of postmasters who were suspected of false accounting and theft, with some fired or wrongfully convicted, after amounts appeared to vanish from their tills.  

The family of Mr Griffiths said he delved into his own savings and those of his parents to pay back around £60,000 he was wrongly suspected of taking from the branch.

The turmoil lasted for four years, between 2009 and 2013, and had a huge impact on the father-of-two’s physical and mental health, his family said.  

In 2013, Mr Griffiths parked his car on the A41 in Ellesmere Port after leaving a note for his loved ones and took his own life. 

His family have called for a stricter line of review from the Government and asked for a judge-led enquiry to get to the bottom of the injustices behind the scandal. 

Postmaster caught up in major IT scandal which saw many falsely accused of accounting fraud suffered a STROKE after he was hounded for £65,000

Peter Murray said he suffered a series of breakdowns and a stroke after he was hounded for £65,000

Peter Murray said he suffered a series of breakdowns and a stroke after he was hounded for £65,000. The 53-year-old, from Wallasey in Merseyside, has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He said he was suspended without pay and forced to take out loans and borrow from friends to make monthly repayments to the Post Office. 

He paid £1,000 a month before learning that he was among many sub-postmasters to face false accusations.

‘It left me completely devastated,’ added the father of three. ‘It caused absolute havoc for my family, I have had several nervous breakdowns. It made me feel like a convict, but I’m not going to let it beat me.’

Wife finally clears name of her postmaster husband after he died while still facing false Post Office claim he had stolen £46,000

Marion Holmes, 78, won justice for her late husband, Peter Holmes, who was a respected postmaster in Jesmond, Newcastle, before the Post Office Horizon scandal ‘destroyed’ his good name

Marion Holmes, 78, won justice for her husband, Peter, who was a respected postmaster before the Post Office Horizon scandal ‘destroyed’ his good name. 

Ex-police officer Peter Holmes had successfully run a sub Post Office in Jesmond, Newcastle, for 13 years, before his world came crashing down due to issues with the Horizon computer system.

When more than £46,000 went missing from his books in 2008, Peter found police at his door and shocking criminal accusations made against him.

He was forced to admit four counts of false accounting in order to for prosecutors to drop charges of theft of the money, which could have seen him sent to prison.

In fact, Peter was one of a number of people wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office over errors its own system had made.

Family of one postmaster said he died a broken man after being forced to clean graves as punishment for a crime he did not commit

Julian Wilson (pictured with his wife Karen) was shattered by injustice and exhausted by his attempts to clear his name

Julian Wilson was shattered by injustice and exhausted by his attempts to clear his name, they said. He died in 2016, at the age of 67, of bowel cancer. His wife Karen says the disease had it roots in the trauma he endured and the all-consuming campaign for redemption.

For years the Post Office had stubbornly insisted its IT systems – called Horizon and designed by a company called Fujitsu – never lied, calling them ‘robust’.

Last year, following a court case brought by 557 postmasters, Mr Justice Fraser branded Horizon not ‘remotely robust’.

He added: ‘This approach by the Post Office has amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred.

‘It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat.’

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