A report on the Post Office scandal, which led to hundreds of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses being wrongly accused of crimes, has described compensation schemes set up to support those impacted as a “patchwork quilt with some holes in it”.
Between 2000 and 2014, 736 managers of local Post Office branches around the UK were convicted of financial malpractice when that was the fault of the digital accounting system brought in by the Post Office.
Errors in the Horizon IT system led to significant shortfalls between reported revenue and actual takings, which led the Post Office to accuse some sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses of theft.
This was followed by multiple prosecutions and wrongful imprisonment. Many of those accused have suffered from depression, financial ruin and even suicide.
In September 2020, an independent inquiry led by retired High Court Judge, Sir Wyn Williams, was set up to gather a clear account of the implementation and failings of the Horizon IT system.
At the launch of his interim report on 17 July 2023, Sir Wyn said that “many hundreds of people suffered disastrous consequences by reason of the misuse of data from Horizon, and thousands more suffered very significantly.”
He added that there is no “valid legal reason” why the Government and Post Office “cannot give effect to the commitments which they have made” in providing “full and fair” compensation.
He also said that there is a “clear and real risk” that final compensation payments will not be delivered by the August 2024 deadline, which he described as “an entirely artificial cut-off point.”
Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “It is a welcome development that Sir Wyn has highlighted inconsistencies between the three schemes and it must be hoped that those who are administering each scheme do all that they can to ensure that claimants are able to achieve the same fair outcome regardless of the scheme in which they are required to submit their claims.
“Trying to work out how much money should be paid in damages to put a claimant back in the position in which he or she would have been had it not been for the Horizon Scandal is a complex process for many, especially for those who have lost homes, businesses, and life savings not to mention their reputations. Many have lived for decades with the stigma hanging over them of a wrongful criminal conviction or bankruptcy that was caused by the actions of the Post Office
In each case, a forensic accountancy model has to be prepared that sets out how the claimant’s financial affairs would have been likely to have evolved had they not had their Post Office employment wrongly terminated. Typically this requires an analysis that spans one or two decades. In order to avoid prejudicing the claims, it is imperative that sufficient time is allowed for complex quantum calculations to be prepared and for such evidence as still exists after many years to be collated and examined. Sir Wyn’s observation that the August 2024 deadline will need to be extended is therefore also very welcome.”
Source: BBC News, Computer Weekly, Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry