Post Office Horizon inquiry: ‘enough evidence for police investigation’

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.

A public inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal at the Post Office has produced enough evidence for police to investigate senior staff, according to lawyers for postmasters who were wrongly convicted of crimes including theft and fraud.

Hundreds of people who owned and operated post offices were wrongfully investigated, prosecuted and convicted between 1999 and 2015 because of bugs in a computer system called Horizon.

During the current public inquiry into the scandal, widely considered one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in British history, postmasters have claimed that senior Post Office staff either knew about the system’s failings or “shut their eyes” to them.

Paul Marshall, a barrister who is representing post office operators in their continuing fight for compensation, said he believed that enough evidence had emerged for police to consider prosecuting former Post Office executives.

“On the face of it, the material is sufficient for the police to investigate whether, over a substantial period of time, the Post Office was engaged in perverting the course of justice or a conspiracy to pervert the courses of justice,” he told the Guardian.

“In my view, the Post Office was engaged in a sustained attack on the rule of law itself.”

Lawyers for the post office owner-managers reportedly want Sir Wyn Williams, chairman of the public inquiry into the scandal, to pass files to the director of public prosecutions once the inquiry is completed next year.

Janet Skinner, a branch operator who was wrongly jailed for nine months, told the Times that collating evidence that may form the basis for an investigation into former senior Post Office staff was a focus for her legal team.

During the course of the statutory inquiry, evidence has emerged indicating that Post Office investigators responsible for looking into allegations against branch operators did not believe that they had stolen anything.

Last week, Post Office accounts revealed that the company has almost halved the amount it has set aside for payments to branch managers wrongly convicted in the scandal, from £487m to £244m, as fewer than expected have won or brought appeals.

The Post Office said: “We fully share the aims of the current public inquiry, set up to independently establish what went wrong in the past and accountability.

“We’re acutely aware of the human cost of the scandal and we’re doing all we can to right the wrongs of the past as far as that is possible. Both Post Office and government are committed to providing full, fair and final compensation for victims.”