PM condemns ‘appalling miscarriage of justice’ of Horizon scandal as CPS looks at 700 convictions

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.

Rishi Sunak has condemned the Post Office Horizon scandal as an “appalling miscarriage of justice”.

The prime minister also said ministers were examining whether to prevent the under-fire organisation from carrying out prosecutions or investigations in relation to the IT scandal.

Hundreds of people were held liable for financial discrepancies thrown up by faulty Fujitsu accounting software that made it appear as though money was missing from their branches.

This led to more than 700 convictions, criminal prosecutions and – in some cases – prison sentences. Dozens of victims died before they saw justice.

Speaking to broadcasters, the prime minister said: “This has been an appalling miscarriage of justice, an appalling treatment of all the people affected, and it’s right that they get the redress that they deserve.”

And Justice Secretary Alex Chalk is examining how to exonerate hundreds of subpostmasters and sub-postmistresses who were wrongfully convicted during the Horizon IT scandal – and whether further steps can be taken against the Post Office.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Mr Sunak was asked whether the government would remove the Post Office’s ability to investigate and prosecute.

Mr Sunak said: “The justice secretary is looking at the things that you’ve described, it wouldn’t be right to pre-empt that process, obviously there’s legal complexity in all of those things but he is looking at exactly those areas.”

And he told broadcasters: “More broadly, the justice secretary is also looking at other options for how we can provide support for people.

“I can’t pre-empt those findings, but we’re keen to do everything we can because this was absolutely appalling.

“It should never have happened, we don’t want it to happen again.”

These measures are on top of the existing compensation schemes.

Mr Chalk is trying to determine whether the Post Office can be removed from the appeals process – meaning the Crown Prosecution Service would take over, The Sunday Times reports.

Sky’s political correspondent Rob Powell said: “Politically pressure and attention is rising… about what can be done to make things right and better and what can be done to find out who is responsible for what went wrong.

“What The Sunday Times is reporting is that the justice secretary, Alex Chalk, is essentially considering ways to expedite the process by which people wrongfully convicted of these crimes can be exonerated.

“Government sources have confirmed to us that that work is taking place and that it would be around looking at how to remove the Post Office from the appeals process by which those convictions get quashed. In the past, we have seen the Post Office standing in the way of appeals going through.”

Although the government announced a new fixed sum payment last year for victims of the scandal, critics have claimed the compensation doesn’t go far enough – and is taking too long to be distributed.

Mr Sunak said: “The government has paid out about £150m to thousands of people already. Of course we want to get the money to the people as quickly as possible, that’s why there are interim payments of up to, I think, £600,000 that can be made.”

Pressure is also mounting on Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, who was postal affairs minister when issues with the Horizon system started to emerge.

The Sunday Times says former sub-postmaster Alan Bates wrote to Sir Ed 12 years ago – and had warned that the accounting scandal could leave taxpayers exposed to “astronomical” costs.

It has also been revealed a frustrated Mr Bates cut off correspondence with the politician because he had received assurances from the Post Office that its systems were robust.

Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has defended Sir Ed, posting on X: “Ed has said how much he regrets that the Post Office was lying to him, just like it was to everyone else.

“He’s experienced more than his fair share of tragedy in his life, I know he feels the pain of those affected by this scandal very deeply.”

The scandal is expected to be a focus for many MPs when they return from their parliamentary recess on Monday.

It’s been reported that Conservative MP Sir David Davis will call for Post Office managers involved in Horizon to be named and prosecuted, and for Fujitsu to lose its government contracts.

On Friday, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that it is investigating the Post Office over potential offences including fraud, perjury and perverting the course of justice.

While two people have been interviewed under caution so far, no arrests have been made.

Separately, more than 910,000 people have signed a petition calling for Paula Vennells – the former Post Office chief executive depicted in the ITV mini-series – to lose her CBE.