Post office officials may be instructed to return their bonuses after the government agrees to pay “appropriate compensation” to hundreds of postmasters who have exposed the Horizon IT scandal.
Ministers have promised to set up a compensation scheme for 555 postmasters who have been fighting a year-long legal battle against the body, leading to a landmark High Court ruling in 2019.
Despite leading the way in disclosing what has been described as “the worst miscarriage of justice in the UK”, the party eventually received প্রতিটি 20,000 each in compensation.
Of the £ 57.75 million in damages paid by the Post Office to settle the lawsuit, about £ 46 million went to the claimants’ legal fees because of a “no fee, no win” agreement with their legal funders.
Sage Sunak, the chancellor, said a new payout scheme would be created next month to support the group, which he said had played a “significant role” in bringing the scandal to light.
Ministers have already allocated about £ 1 billion in taxpayer-funded compensation for claims associated with the project, although most of the victims have yet to receive a penny.
Between 2000 and 2015, more than 700 postmasters were wrongly tried for theft, fraud and false accounting as a result of inconsistencies caused by software created by the Japanese firm Fujitsu.
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Paul Scully, the postal minister, credited the Treasury for pushing for a new scheme, saying the IT giant could be targeted to recover some of the compensation. When asked in the Commons about the demand for money from Fujitsu, he said: “We will put as much pressure as possible.”
Under pressure from those who presided over the scandal over whether the government would recover the cost of compensation, including bonuses for post office executives, he insisted that “there is nothing off the table.”
“UK taxpayers should not be hooked on other people’s mistakes,” he added.
The structure of the scheme has not yet been agreed upon, although Scully said it could reflect a historic deficit project (HSS) set up to compensate a wide pool of postmasters who have suffered losses due to Horizon. This could mean that 555 postmasters can be compensated for past losses and expected future losses, as well as for the wider impact on their lives.
The deal was struck after months of lobbying postmasters, many of whom went bankrupt or became homeless.
Scully blamed the delay in agreeing a compensation package for the concern that Therium, the company that financed the group lawsuit, could claim a share of the extra money. He said that after extensive discussions, the organization has decided to waive their rights.
Postmasters called for immediate payment, citing dozens of victims who died without trial.
Alan Bates, who founded the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance and was the main defendant in the High Court case, said: “We need to get something from the people soon. People are dying. “
He suggested that the government could initially reimburse the group at a cost of িয়ন 46 million before setting aside each individual case.
“What we have heard from the minister is a step in the right direction,” he said. “Everything seemed pretty positive, but the devil is in the details and we’re waiting to hear it.”
Bates added that there was “a huge gulf of trust” between the victims of the scandal and the government.
Scully says the families of the deceased postmasters will be able to claim through new projects, such as bankruptcy.
The Post Office has spent £ 43 million on legal and consultation fees to pull a team of 555 postmasters through the courts.
In his ruling after the case ended in 2019, Mr Justice Fraser said reliance on the post office’s horizons was “the equivalent of the 21st century to keep the world level”.
Since the verdict, more than 70 postmasters have been convicted, allowing them access to a separate compensation scheme.
Margaret White, a former manager at the Banbury Road Post Office in Oxford, became the latest to reverse her conviction today, having previously admitted to two counts of false accounting for a 28,000 deficit.
In 2007, he was sentenced by Oxford Crown Court to 51 weeks’ imprisonment, two years’ suspension, two years’ supervision and 150 hours of unpaid work.
Rejecting the conviction in the appellate court, Lord Justice sat down with Justice Hallroy, Mr Justice Pekin and Mrs Justice Farbe and said: “We are satisfied that it is unsafe for Mrs White to be convicted.”
A public investigation into the Horizon scandal, led by former High Court Judge Sir Win Williams, is ongoing.