Bosses accused of prolonging payout talks in Post Office scandal

UK taxpayers could have to pay as much as £1bn in compensation to former Post Office workers wrongly convicted of theft due to the defective Horizon IT system.

Post Office bosses have been accused of dragging their heels in negotiations over compensation for scores of sub-postmasters who were wrongly convicted of fraud.

One of the lawyers leading the claims said that the victims and company executives were “poles apart” on agreeing damages over the scandal involving a faulty technology programme, which resulted in what is considered to be the UK’s biggest miscarriage of justice.

One of the sub-postmasters said that the Post Office “perpetuates this dreadful saga” while the victims were desperate to put the matter behind them.

Lawyers predict that hundreds of convicted sub-postmasters could apply to the Court of Appeal after judges quashed 39 convictions a year ago. A total of 72 convictions have been quashed but more than 700 people were convicted between 2000 and 2014.

Post Office executives have been accused of ruining hundreds of lives after they introduced a computing system called Horizon into branches 23 years ago and then brought private prosecutions based on its faulty evidence. Some of those who were wrongly convicted died before their names were cleared.

The victims’ lawyers have called for compensation that goes beyond a fund set up by the Post Office, which is a government-owned limited company, after it settled more than 550 civil claims at the end of 2019.

Neil Hudgell, a solicitor who is negotiating with the Post Office on several of the lead cases to establish the value of compensation, said this weekend that the process was not progressing quickly enough. “Our clients want closure, but we are not yet there,” he said, adding in reference to the age of some of the claimants: “And time is not on some people’s side.”

He said that the issues being negotiated with the Post Office were “narrowing . . . but not quickly enough” and called for a programme of early dispute resolution to resolve contentious areas.

He added: “At the moment, though, we are poles apart in how we value some of the losses suffered by the sub-postmasters.”

Jo Hamilton, 64, a grandmother who was forced to remortgage her home after Post Office executives accused her of stealing £36,000 from the branch she ran in South Warnborough, Hampshire, was one of the first group to have their convictions quashed by appeal judges. She said that in refusing to admit guilt and give full and final compensation the Post Office “just perpetuates this dreadful saga”.