555 subpostmasters to get fair compensation after government U-turn

Government finally agrees to pay 555 Post Office scandal victims fair compensation

After two decades of fighting for justice, fair compensation will be paid to hundreds of victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal who have so far been excluded, after the government made a U-turn.

The 555 former subpostmasters took the Post Office to court in 2018 and in the process exposed the IT scandal that affected thousands. But after legal costs were paid out of the compensation, they were left with derisory sums, which the government repeatedly described as full and final.

But under extreme pressure from victims, campaigners, MPs and peers, the government will now work with subpostmaster campaign group the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), of which the 555 are all members, to ensure fair compensation is paid.

Thousands of subpostmasters were wrongly blamed and punished for accounting shortfalls at their branches, which were later proved in the High Court 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).

Speaking on Radio Four’s Today programme, Paul Scully, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) minister, said: “I will be laying a statement later on today and I am looking forward to working with the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance over the next few weeks to agree a scheme that we can use to deliver that compensation they missed out on.”

In a High Court case in 2019, the 555 proved that the computer system was to blame and the Post Office was forced to pay £57.75m compensation. But after legal costs were paid, the victims were left with just £11m between them and received derisory sums. The government repeatedly stated that the payment was full and final and could not be changed.

This is despite thousands of subpostmasters who were not part of the court case receiving compensation through the Historic Shortfalls Scheme that the Post Office was forced to set up after its loss in court.

Scully added: “I want to make sure [the 555] are compensated in at least the same way as people receiving compensation through the Historic Shortfalls Scheme, other people that weren’t pioneers like them that broke open this entire case.

“It is a massive scandal and it is something I want to put right. The 555 need to be treated fairly. They haven’t been so far and that includes those that were prosecuted but not convicted, within that group of 555.”

The 555 have constantly called out the unfairness of their position, forcing the government to eventually make a U-turn.

In January Computer Weekly revealed that the government has set aside £1bn as part for IT scandal compensation

Following Scully’s comments, Alan Bates, who set up the JFSA in 2009, said: “We are waiting with interest for the minister’s statement later today.”

Conservative peer James Arbuthnot, a campaigner for the subpostmasters, said: “If this is true – and there have been many false dawns in this saga – it’s wonderful news.

“The government is doing the right thing. And it is due to the dogged perseverance of Alan Bates, without whose leadership and courage we would never have had the judgment in the group litigation that broke this dreadful scandal wide open.

“For many, it comes too late, and the details of the compensation will require much work. But at last there is light at the end of this tunnel. And the next question will be: why should the taxpayer bear the whole cost of this when Fujitsu and others knew and collaborated in what was going on? But for today, we should simply express our delight.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "Whilst it cannot take away the years of distress, the postmasters who have suffered terribly over the Post Office Horizon scandal deserve to be fairly compensated. That’s why we’ll be introducing a new compensation scheme for those who led and won the landmark legal case over the failings, so they can receive their fair share."

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak said: "Without the efforts of [the 555}, this terrible injustice may have never been uncovered so it is only right that they are compensated fully and fairly."

Timeline of the Post Office Horizon scandal articles since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009

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