Public inquiry officially launched into Post Office subpostmasters scandal

post office

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee has launched an inquiry into issues emerging from the Post Office Horizon trial.

MP Rachel Reeves, BEIS chair has also written to Boris Johnson to press for further details after he committed to “getting to the bottom” of the scandal last week in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Reeves said: “Hundreds of subpostmasters have suffered considerable distress, and many have had their lives ruined by the faults in the Horizon IT system.

“Following December’s High Court ruling in favour of subpostmasters, and the finding that Horizon was flawed, it’s right to examine what the Post Office Ltd and the government have learned from this scandal and establish what steps they are taking to ensure something similar never happens again.”

“The case also raises concerns about the damage caused to the relationship between Post Office Ltd and the subpostmasters and about what this means for the future of our Post Office network. We will hear from subpostmasters about the impact of Horizon on their lives and take the opportunity to hold executives from Post Office Ltd and Fujitsu to account for their handling of the problems around the Horizon IT and accounting system.”

The committee will be holding two evidence hearings as part of the inquiry. The first session will take place on Tuesday 10 March, where the it will hear from subpostmasters, the Communications Workers Union, Calum Greenhow, National Federation of SubPostmasters CEO.

Mark Baker, CWU national branch secretary said: “The Postmasters Branch of the CWU welcomes the news that the BEIS Select Committee is to launch an inquiry into the Horizon scandal. This inquiry will follow on from a previous inquiry it held into the Horizon system back in 2015. A lot has happened since then.

“We believe that this a necessary part of the healing process that will have to take place if harmonious relations are to be reestablished between the Post Office and its Postmasters.

“We trust that the Select Committee will drill down into what went wrong and who is to blame. We are particularly pleased that one of the themes the Committee will examine is the role that the National Federation of SubPostmasters played in all of this. As they claimed to be the only representative body for Postmasters throughout the duration of this scandal whilst at the same time being fully funded by the Post Office.

“During the High litigation the presiding Judge heavily criticised this funding and the lack of independence of the NFSP.”

On Tuesday 24 March, the committee is expected to question the current Post Office Ltd CEO, Nick Read, the former CEO, Paula Vennells, Fujitsu, a BEIS minister and a representative from UK Government Investments.

The case raises a series of issues which are relevant to the BEIS Committee scrutiny of the Post Office Ltd, including the following points:

  • What damage has Horizon caused to the relationship between PO Ltd and subpostmasters and will this impact on the PO network?
  • What role did the National Federation of SubPostmasters play in the Horizon scandal in terms of representing affected subpostmasters?
  • What steps are the Government taking to help subpostmasters to overturn convictions if they were based on Horizon errors?
  • Have the costs of the Horizon case adversely affected PO services and are there potentially more costs resulting from further civil and criminal litigation?
  • How transparent is PO Ltd in its decision making and in its use of public money?
  • What lessons has PO Ltd learnt and what steps is it taking to avoid similar problems?
  • What role did BEIS and UKGI (UK Government Investments) play and is it reviewing its oversight of PO Ltd following Horizon?