Almost three years after a High Court judge ruled against the Post Office and said computer errors caused untold damage for which subpostmasters were blamed, many of the victims have yet to receive any compensation.
Former judge Wynne Williams, who chairs the public inquiry set up to investigate the scandal, has criticized the lack of progress in providing interim compensation to a large group of scandal victims.
“I am disappointed at the apparent lack of significant progress to date,” he said in a statement. “I am aware from correspondence with me that discussions are ongoing. However, I am also aware that there are individuals who are unhappy with the pace of progress.”
Williams said he will hold hearings in the next few months to get updates on progress. “If, at the hearing, it becomes clear to me that sufficient progress has not been made, I will then, as stated in the conclusion of my progress update, provide an interim report containing specific recommendations under s24(3) of the Inquiry Act. 2005,” he said.
This is a significant announcement as it will see Williams exercise his statutory powers – it will be put before Parliament and the Government will be forced to respond.
Many of the victims of the scam lost everything after being wrongly blamed for unexplained shortfalls in their accounts, which were caused by a fault in the Post Office’s computer system used for branch accounting.
They have lost businesses, homes, many have been prosecuted and jailed, and there have been suicides linked to scandals. In 2009, Computer Weekly told the story of seven subpostmasters affected by the problem (See the timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).
It has been almost three years since the High Court ended a Group Litigation Order (GLO), in which a group of former subpostmasters proved that computer errors were to blame and not themselves. The Post Office was forced to set up a compensation scheme for all affected ex-subpostmasters.
A group of over 500 subpostmasters – members of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), who took the post office to court and Proved that the unexplained damage was caused by a computer error – was excluded from the compensation scheme.
The Government said the £57m paid to subpostmasters after defeating the Post Office in court was full and final, although £11m of this money was eaten up by legal costs.
But they continued to fight for fair compensation, just as they had fought for justice for more than a decade, and in June the government was forced to Agree to pay them fair compensation.
Many are suffering serious financial difficulties today as a direct result of the scandal and some are having to wait for interim compensation due to the complexity of their cases, including their bankruptcy status and their prosecution by the Post Office. Not found guilty in court.
The government, through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), promised subpostmasters that they would receive interim payments within weeks of receiving applications from claimants, but some have now been waiting almost two months for payments. made up
Computer Weekly understands that a significant number of JFSA members are nowhere near receiving their interim payments.
More than 400 of the groups have received interim payments and others need to provide more information, while around 60 are in limbo because they are bankrupt as a result of the Horizon error.
Earlier this month, Ho + Co, a lawyer representing victims of the scam, wrote to Williams about their concerns about the progress of interim payments.
After Williams’ announcement, David Enright, partner at Howe+Co, said: “The Chair’s statement demonstrates her focus on fair compensation and her determination to continue to monitor its progress until subpostmasters are reinstated to their positions.”
Former Essex subpostmaster Sue Palmer is one of the JFSA group who won GLOs and are yet to receive an interim payment. He was tried in 2004 for financial crimes following unexplained losses by the Post Office, but was found not guilty. People like him, who were tried but not found guilty, still lost businesses, homes, thousands of pounds and had their lives turned upside down.
The government agreed to pay interim compensation of up to £100,000 to all those wrongly convicted, but Palmer did not qualify as he was acquitted.
He is eligible to receive interim compensation as a member of the JFSA, but the delay is because he is insolvent, which has related complications.
A letter from Palmer’s law firm Friths, which is handling the compensation claim, said: “As well as our recent correspondence regarding your bankruptcy, the primary view of the Insolvency Service is that compensation should not form part of your bankruptcy. However, we need your trustees to agree to this – you know, they have a duty to act in the best interests of your creditors.
“We are in the process of contacting your trustees, and the government is setting out its legal advice in writing to your trustees to consider their respective positions. This is a positive step, but there is still some way to go to ensure that everyone agrees We will continue to keep you updated.”
Palmer said he lives on benefits and recently borrowed money from his elderly parents in the belief that he would be able to pay them back quickly.
“I have shown them all the letters that I will get compensation soon, but I have not received it yet,” he said. Her father is in his nineties and in end-of-life care. He was devastated as he could not repay the loan.
“The first thing I do every morning is check my bank account to see if I have an interim payment,” he added.
Palmer believes he would have been better off if he had pleaded guilty to false accounting instead of fighting the case, which he won.
BEIS was not available for comment at the time of writing.