The 13-year campaign by victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal for fair compensation, could be nearing its end after a “very positive” and “heartening” meeting with the government.
The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), made up of 555 of the former subpostmasters, met Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy minister Paul Scully to discuss progress following his announcement last week that the government would reverse a previous decision and pay them fair compensation.
Over a period of nearly two decades, thousands of subpostmasters were wrongly blamed and punished for accounting shortfalls at their branches, which were later proved to have been caused by computer errors. They lost their businesses, homes, many were prosecuted and sent to prison, and there are suicides linked to the scandal. In 2009, Computer Weekly told the stories of seven subpostmasters affected by the problems (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).
The JFSA, which was established in 2009, took the Post Office to the High Court in 2018 and in the process exposed the IT scandal that affected thousands. But after legal costs were paid out of the £57.75m compensation offered by the Post Office to settle the trial, the 555 were left with just £11m between them, which meant derisory sums for each individual – a payment which the government repeatedly described as “full and final”.
Without the JFSA’s persistent and determined campaigning, the scandal would never have been fully exposed. It is described today as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in UK history. A total of 73 former subpostmasters have so far had wrongful criminal convictions for theft and fraud overturned, and many more cases are expected to follow.
Following a meeting today (30 March 2022), former subpostmaster and JFSA founder and chair Alan Bates, told members their long campaign could be nearing a successful end.
“Believe me that there is no one more cynical about words and promises than me in all of this, [but] I think we are actually going to finally be able to close our campaign before long and at last I am very positive about the future,” wrote Bates in an email to the group.
“It is early days, so I am sure you will appreciate there are not a lot of details available yet, but it is all very positive. So after all this time, it was quite heartening to be at a meeting with the minister and starting to discuss the best way forward to finally resolve the claims of the group as soon as possible. I came away with an impression that there is a genuine desire by the minister and his officials to drive this forward as quickly as can be achieved.”
Minister Scully emailed Bates after the meeting, and said: “Thanks for our meeting this morning about our shared ambition of delivering prompt and fair compensation to postmasters in the group litigation order. I welcome the creative ideas which you brought to the table about how to do that.
“We’ll need to reflect on them within government, but I want to do that rapidly. I hope that within a few weeks we’ll be in a position to write to your members with more details of our approach. In the meantime my officials will begin weekly working group meetings with the JFSA and Freeths [solicitors] to start thinking through options for the way in which compensation will be delivered.”
The government gave subsidies to the Post Office worth £1bn last year to fund compensation for the thousands of victims of the Horizon scandal – a fund from which the 555 subpostmasters who took the Post Office to the High Court had previously been excluded.