Post Office scandal victims seek action on compensationon July 17, 2023 at 2:21 pm

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Payout schemes for the Post Office scandal are a “patchwork quilt with some holes in it”, a report says.

Shazia Saddiq and Sue Palmer

“Words are no good now, we need actions. We need the Post Office to have accountability and the government.”

Sue Palmer is one of many former Post Office managers who were wrongly accused of crimes due to accounting errors caused by a faulty IT system.

Along with hundreds of others, she is still waiting for full compensation.

A report on Monday called for action and law changes to stop issues “blocking full and fair compensation”.

The head of an inquiry into the Post Office scandal, Sir Wyn Williams, said schemes set up to compensate sub-postmasters and sub-postmistress wrongly accused of crimes was a “patchwork quilt with some holes in it”.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 700 Post Office managers were given criminal convictions when faulty accounting software, called Horizon, made it look as though money was missing from their sites.

The cases constitute Britain’s most widespread miscarriage of justice. Some people went to prison following convictions for false accounting and theft, and many were financially ruined. Some victims have since died.

There has been a public inquiry, led by Sir Wyn, which has been examining the treatment of thousands of sub-postmasters, and to establish who was to blame for the wrongful prosecutions and why nothing was done to prevent them.

Sir Wyn said on Monday that his criticisms over delays in compensation “remain justified”.

‘Ruined my life’

Mrs Palmer, along with fellow former sub-postmistress Shazia Saddiq, 39, told the BBC the scandal had had a “devastating” impact on their lives.

Ms Saddiq, who used to run three Post Offices in Newcastle upon Tyne, said she had “lost everything” as a result of being accused of crimes a decade ago, including her home above one branch.

She did not end up facing criminal prosecution, but she had to leave the area with her two young children after being assaulted with flour in the street.

“I had to flee, me and my children overnight. They left their friends behind, they had to change schools,” she said.

Mrs Palmer, who was found not guilty after a trial, said the allegations had “ruined my life”.

“I was made homeless, I now live in a one-bedroom studio flat (because of the financial impact),” she said.

Mrs Palmer, from Essex, had previously told the BBC she received a compensation payment in December, but soon realised it was not what it seemed, with a significant chunk of the money going straight to pay her creditors. She is now seeking proper compensation for the scandal.

The former postmistresses welcomed the latest report by Sir Wyn, but both called for the compensation process to be sped up.

“To keep a human being in this fight mode for such a long time, it’s torturous. I want to be free from this now,” Ms Saddiq said.

Sub postmasters celebrate the quashing of their convictions

Image source, PA Media

In the report laid before Parliament, Sir Wyn said there was no “valid legal reason” why the government and Post Office “cannot give effect to the commitments they which they have made” in providing “full and fair” compensation.

The retired judge said it was his job to make sure ministers and Post Office executives “made good on those promises” made to provide compensation to legitimate claimants “promptly” and to make sure the amounts paid out was “recognised to be full and fair”.

Sir Wyn has long held concerns about the slow progress of compensation for Post Office staff.

But the Post Office chief executive, Nick Read, told the BBC’s World At One programme that the “sheer scale” of the miscarriage of justice had “gone above and beyond anything that anybody could realistically expect”.

“It really is a huge apology from the Post Office. We are all in this together and we are all on the same side,” he said, but he rejected claims the Post Office was deliberately delaying proceedings.

Sir Wyn said it had been 16 months since he first started to hear the experiences of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, which he said “consisted of graphic descriptions of hardship and suffering”.

The former High Court judge there were 438 applications for compensation still to be resolved as of 27 April, which he said the Post Office had accepted were “difficult to resolve”.

“I am left with the distinct impression that the most complex cases have not been addressed as speedily as might have been the case,” he said.

As the Post Office scandal has developed, three different compensation schemes have been set up.

But Sir Wyn said he was “sure” that if the government and Post Office were devising a scheme to deliver compensation to all involved now, there would not be three of them.

He also warned there was a “clear and real risk” that final compensation payments under one scheme – the Group Litigation Order set up by the government last year – “will not be delivered to each applicant” by the 7 August 2024 deadline.

He set out a series of recommendations, one of which was for payments to be made after the deadline, which he described as an “entirely artificial cut-off point”.

Kevin Hollinrake, the Post Office Minister appointed last autumn, said the government would review the report and respond in due course.

“It is vital that we establish the facts behind this scandal and learn the lessons so that something like this can never happen again,” he said.

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