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The group representing hundreds of subpostmasters embroiled in a High Court battle with the Post Office has expressed its shock at Post Office CEO Paula Vennells being awarded a CBE in the Queen’s New Year honours list.
Vennells was awarded a CBE for services to the Post Office and charity.
The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), which is currently involved in a court battle with the Post Office, has expressed its dismay at the award in the light of the serious allegations in the case.
A group litigation order (GLO) is continuing, with more than 550 former subpostmasters, organised by the JFSA, seeking damages for the suffering they experienced because of unexplained discrepancies in accounts. Some were fined heavily, others were ordered to pay back thousands of pounds, and some were even sent to prison. The subpostmasters blame the Post Office’s Horizon IT system for the errors and have criticised the organisation’s business practices.
The JFSA issued this statement following Vennells’ award: “The JFSA is stunned at how inappropriate it was to award a CBE to Paula Vennells, CEO of Post Office Limited, an organisation she leads, which has brought so much suffering to many subpostmasters, their families and communities. How the destruction and financial ruin of so many lives entitles someone in total denial of the failures of her company, to an award usually reserved for those who have made a positive, distinguished or notable contribution, is beyond understanding. Surely they have made a mistake?”
Ten years ago, before Vennells joined the Post Office, Computer Weekly revealed the stories of subpostmasters who had received heavy fines and jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they blamed on Horizon (see timeline below for all Computer Weekly coverage).
The Post Office has consistently denied the allegations.
The GLO is likely to extend into 2020, when a fourth trial is expected. The first trial, which looked at the contractual relationship between the Post Office and subpostmasters, ran for more than a month from 7 November 2018. The second trial, in March 2019, will put the Horizon computer system – at the centre of the case – under the microscope. A third trial, scheduled for October 2019, will focus on individual subpostmasters’ claims.
But as he closed proceedings at the first trial, Judge Fraser said a fourth trial would be held, probably in early 2020.
The judge’s ruling from the first trial is expected later this month.
The case continues.
Separately, the Criminal Courts Review Commission (CCRC) is reviewing about 30 claims from subpostmasters that they were wrongfully prosecuted as a result of problems with the Post Office’s Horizon IT system, through which they file accounts.
The CCRC was due to announce its decisions on the cases under review, but will now wait until after Judge Fraser’s ruling on the first trial in the GLO. It might then decide to wait until after the second trial in March.
Miles Trent, case review manager at the CCRC, said: “I can now confirm the commissioners have met to discuss the cases and have decided the CCRC must wait for the first judgment of the High Court in the group litigation before issuing any decisions in the CCRC cases under review. Once the CCRC has obtained and considered that judgment – which is expected in January 2019 – the CCRC will take a view on whether it must also wait for the second High Court judgment (regarding the ‘Horizon’ trial) before it can issue any decisions in these cases.”
Timeline of the Post Office Horizon case since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009
September 2009: Postmasters form action group after accounts shortfall
November 2009: Post Office theft case deferred over IT questions
January 2013: Post Office announces amnesty for Horizon evidence
December 2014: MPs to debate subpostmaster IT injustice claims
May 2015: IT system related to subpostmaster prosecutions under review by CCRC