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Perverting course of justice and contempt of Parliament: a week in post-drama Post Office scandal

As another week in the post-drama Post Office scandal passes, Computer Weekly looks at some of the key moments

Perverting the course of justice and contempt of Parliament were just two of the accusations thrown at the Post Office last week, alongside demands for it to be forced to pay victims faster and claims it is still not open and honest.

Hardly a day has passed without the Post Office topping the headlines since ITV’s drama on the scandal aired, and understandably so.

Last week’s main events were a Parliamentary select committee hearing looking into the financial redress of subpostmasters and damning comments from KC Edward Henry in his closing statement to phase four of the public inquiry into the Post Office scandal.

Details of agonisingly slow payments to the victims of the scandal, revealed in the Department for Business and Trade select committee meeting, were overshadowed by a dispute between the Post Office and its former chairman, Henry Staunton.

Following the said spat, Post Office boss Nick Read’s honesty has been called into question. During the hearing, he was asked by committee chair Liam Byrne whether he had considered resigning from the Post Office, to which he said no.

Claims were later made, by Staunton, that Read had, in fact, threatened to resign if his demands for a pay rise – which, according to reports, would have taken his salary to £1m – were rejected.

Somebody is not being truthful, and the committee is now demanding copies of documents, seen by The Sunday Times, that reveal Read said he was “prepared to make a drama” if he did not receive the pay rise and that he could claim a “formal grievance” or “constructive dismissal”.

Byrne told Channel 4 News that if Read was proven to have misled MPs, it would be prima facie evidence of contempt of Parliament.

During the hearing, Read also exaggerated the efforts being made by the Post Office to investigate potential wrongful convictions and sanctions of subpostmasters using a system that was in place before Horizon, known as Capture.

He told MPs the Post Office had been “working hard for five weeks” looking into the Capture system allegations, but Computer Weekly established that the Post Office had not even contacted the affected people brought to its attention by lawyers. The Post Office doubled down, telling Computer Weekly it had contacted every affected former subpostmaster brought to it. But two of them told Computer Weekly they have had no contact from the Post Office.

MP Kevan Jones said: “I find it hugely disappointing that the Post Office has not contacted them. I have given them the evidence. If you are investigating ‘hard’, you should have contacted these people because they have in-depth knowledge of the system.”

But accusations of potential contempt of Parliament were quickly surpassed by an allegation that the Post Office conspired to pervert the course of justice when the Henry KC, published his closing statement for phase four of the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry. He went a step further and named individuals who had “suppressed” and “withheld” evidence.

The controversy is in addition to the findings of the select committee hearing into the slowness of the financial address are taken into account.

During the mammoth five-hour hearing, MPs were told the complexity and unfairness of schemes for the financial redress of former subpostmasters were leading to slow and often unfair settlements.

Witnesses called for a legally binding deadline on when payments should be made, and raised the need to reopen settlements that were agreed by victims without legal representation.

There was also a call for Horizon IT supplier Fujitsu to be made to contribute to the compensation costs, currently estimated to be over £1bn.

Public disgust over the treatment of subpostmasters, who suffered huge hardship at the hands of the Post Office, is only going to grow with every revelation.

An article in The Times revealed the Post Office has spent twice as much on legal fees responding to the scandal than it has paid in compensation to former subpostmasters.

Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered as a result of the Horizon system (see timeline below of all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal).

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal.

• Also watch: ITV’s Post Office scandal documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story.

Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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