Postmasters received 'nowhere near' their losses when they won payouts

Postmasters received ‘nowhere near’ their losses when they won payouts over Horizon computer scandal as Government promises to pay them more

  • Hundreds of subpostmasters were sacked or prosecuted due to an IT glitch
  • Post Office spent £32m denying any fault and bullied people into guilty pleas
  • 72 postmasters have had convictions quashed and been offered compensation
  • But many have told MPs the money is ‘nowhere near’ the amount they lost 
  • Paul Harry, who was accused of false accounting, has received a fifth of his funds

Postmasters have told MPs the compensation they received in the wake of the Horizon computer scandal was ‘nowhere near’ the amount they lost as a result of their convictions, while the government has promised to pay them more. 

Hundreds of subpostmasters were sacked or prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 after reported shortfalls which were eventually attributed to a glitch in an IT system rolled out by the Post Office in 1999.

The Post Office spent £32million denying any fault with their IT system and even bullied postmasters into pleading guilty to crimes they knew they had not committed.

So far, 72 postmasters’ convictions have been quashed and have been offered compensation, which they claim is ‘nowhere near’ the amount of money they lost as a result of the prosecutions.

Paul Harry, a former subpostmaster who was accused of false accounting by the Post Office, said he has received only around a fifth of the funds he cashed out to the mail delivery operation after shortfalls appeared in the Horizon accounting system.

Former subpostmaster Paul Harry (pictured) giving evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee of the subject of the Post Office and Horizon scandal

Former subpostmaster Jo Hamilton (pictured) told MPs she is ‘one of the lucky ones’ after receiving back all her lost funds in compensation. It came after she remortgaged her house and ‘borrowed money from my friends and parents’

Alan Bates, a former subpostmaster and founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance representing 555 people who paid false shortfalls but were not convicted. He said ‘more questions need answering’ as to whether those people will receive payments

A number of other former subpostmasters and lawyers also explained to MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee the financial toll of the scandal and compensation which has been offered since the first legal convictions were overturned.

Shortly before the committee hearing started, the Government pledged that it will foot the bill for the final compensation payments to the wrongly convicted workers.

The Post Office has said it is unable to cover the payments for the exonerated individuals but the Government – as its only shareholder – confirmed it will pay.

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, some while they had been pregnant or had young children.

Marriages broke down, and courts have heard how some families believe the stress led to health conditions, addiction and premature deaths.

In a written ministerial statement, postal affairs minister Paul Scully said: ‘I am pleased to confirm that today the Government is making funding available to facilitate Post Office to make final compensation payments to postmasters whose convictions have been overturned.

‘We are working with Post Office to finalise the arrangements that will enable the final settlement negotiations to begin as soon as possible.

‘By providing this funding, Government is helping Post Office deliver the fair compensation postmasters deserve.’

Chairman of the BEIS committee Darren Jones said it was ‘wholly unacceptable’ for the minister’s statement to published shortly before the hearing began.

He also said that ‘more questions need answering’ as to whether the 555 people who paid false shortfalls but were not convicted will receive payments.

Alan Bates, a former subpostmaster and founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance representing these 555 individuals, said: ‘I think over the years when they were serving subpostmasters they paid in the region of £8.5million back to the Post Office in stated shortfalls.

‘That’s before anything else, like the loss of their businesses and all the rest of it, including the financial difficulties they’ve be left in.’

Mr Bates added the group received a £56.75million settlement in 2019, but that £46million went directly towards the cost of legal action.

‘After that was removed, around £11m was left, averaging around £20,000 per person,’ he said.

‘Unfortunately, each claim is closer to £700,000 in actuality of what people have lost to put them back in the position they started had the Post Office not done what they did.’

Mr Harry, who was convicted of false accounting, said he has received an interim compensation payment but is hoping for further payments.

He said: ‘I have received a small amount of just over £20,000, but my losses are in excess of £100,000, so I am nowhere near getting my money.’

Former subpostmaster Jo Hamilton told MPs she is ‘one of the lucky ones’ after receiving back all her lost funds in compensation.

It came after she remortgaged her house and ‘borrowed money from my friends and parents’.

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.

Hundreds of subpostmasters were sacked or prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 after reported shortfalls which were eventually attributed to a glitch in IT system rolled out by the Post Office in 1999 (file photo)

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, some while they had been pregnant or had young children.

Marriages broke down, and courts have heard how some families believe the stress led to health conditions, addiction and premature deaths. 

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