Post workers who have had their convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting – the result of miscalculations – overturned will each receive interim compensation of up to £ 100,000, the government has said.
In a written declaration to the Commons Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng on Thursday said the government was backing the post office to deliver the money before final compensation settlements were agreed.
The announcement came three days after 12 other postal workers had their convictions overturned by the appeals court. Monday’s ruling brought the total number of postal workers to be evacuated to 57. They had been convicted because Horizon’s faulty computer system mistakenly suggested there was a lack of cash.
Campaigners believe as many as 900 operators may have been prosecuted and convicted between 2000 and 2014, in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history. Some of the convicted workers were imprisoned and lost their livelihoods and homes. Many went bankrupt – and some died before their names were erased.
Postal Affairs Minister Paul Scully said: “The suffering and distress these postmasters and their families have endured cannot be overstated. While nothing can make up for the years of pain they have suffered after this appalling injustice, I hope this first step will bring some comfort. The Post has started to take a turn in terms of dealing with its past mistakes – and this government will support them in that task where possible. “
The Post is reaching out to postal operators and will aim to make an interim payment offer within 28 days of receiving a request from those whose overturned convictions were based on Horizon System evidence, provided by Fujitsu.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission said it was reviewing more cases, while others appealed directly to the appeals court. In May, the Post said it was contacting around 540 people who may have been wrongfully prosecuted and seeking additional information in 100 other cases. If and when new convictions are overturned, those people will also be eligible for the compensation payments announced on Thursday, the Ministry of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said.
In December 2019, La Poste settled a civil action brought by 555 claimants, without admitting liability, for £ 57.75 million. However, that amounted to £ 12million after court costs, or less than £ 22,000 each.
In April of this year, the same month that 39 post office operators had their convictions overturned, Post General Manager Nick Read called on the government to fund “significant compensation” for those wrongly convicted, claiming that the company “just doesn’t have the financial resources” to do it.
On Thursday, he said: “Ensuring that compensation is paid as quickly as possible is a priority for Post Office. I welcome the government’s support to enable these interim payments which are beginning to provide some redress to those who have seriously failed. While we cannot change the past, this is an important step towards meaningful compensation for victims and we will offer payments as soon as possible. “
Following a public outcry over the elimination of the 39 postal workers, the government announced in May that it would give legal status to the independent investigation into the Horizon scandal, meaning he will have the power to compel witnesses and demand evidence, with fines or jail time for non-compliance.
The Communications Workers Union called for criminal investigations into senior postal officials who “oversaw the criminalization of hundreds of postmasters.”