Attack of the green benches
I have been going a little stir crazy recently. Child 3 has COVID and is too young to be left home alone, so I have done the honourable thing and not left the house whilst Mrs Wallis is at work. Child 3 is fine, don’t worry, almost asymptomatic, I have a negative PCR in my virtual fist and am lateral flow testing every day (so far also negative). It’s just that Child 3 and I are both having our own little lockdown, and he is taking it far better than me.
I am now, however, in a pub. Mrs Wallis has arrived like the cavalry to take over childcare duties so I have been on a very long walk along the Thames in the dark to reach a much recommended boozer. The recommendations are sound. But that is not why you are reading this email. You are reading this email because you want to know about…
Compensation for wronged Subpostmasters
I have written a long blog post about the latest developments here. Basically there has been a lot of parliamentary activity over the last two days caused, I suspect (and having spoken to some, they suspect too) by backbench MPs kicking off, either through Darren Jones’ BEIS Select Committee or in Westminster Hall (via Alistair Carmichael MP) or on the floor of the main chamber thanks to several deft manouevrings which (possibly) forced a ministerial statement this afternoon on the subject of compensation.
I’ve written about everything which happened at the BEIS inquiry and Westminster Hall in the blog post. Today’s oral statement by the minister came after my post was published so I’ll paraphrase what was said, although if you’d rather read the full transcript, thanks to the magic of Hansard, it is all here.
The title of today’s statement was “Postmasters with Overturned Convictions: Settlement Funds” and in it, the BEIS minister Paul Scully explained that the government would underwrite the compensation scheme for Subpostmasters with quashed convictions.
This was exactly the same as the written statement he offered to the house yesterday, but at least he could be queried on it. When questioned, Mr Scully did not impart much in the way of new information but he did at least say that out of the 72 quashed convictions, 66 successful appellants had applied for the interim £100k compensation, 62 offers had been made and 50 had been paid at the full amount. Dr Neil Hudgell had something to say about those who had been refused compensation in parliament yesterday.
The other victims
Scully told the house “around” 2,500 people had applied to the Historical Shortfall Scheme (more on that in my post), 640 convicted Postmasters had been contacted by the Post Office with a view to helping them get their convictions quashed (more on that in my post) and that when it came to the “full and final” compensation give to the 555 Subpostmasters who took the Post Office to the High Court and won, he will no longer insist that that compensation is full and final, but that he “will continue to work with them to see what we can do.”
That’s all he said. Several times. He didn’t give any indication as to how he would work with the 555, what work he would do and what problems he was having to overcome, but he made it clear his ambition was “full and fair” compensation for every Subpostmaster affected by the scandal.
I wish some of his interlocutors in the House had put him on the spot about why it was not in his power to announce “full and fair” compensation for the 555 immediately. I am aware there are issues of a legal nature, but really it is one of will, and someone very close to the process told me tonight that it is the Treasury holding out against agreeing the compensation because it doesn’t want to cough up the estimated £500m to £1bn full and fair compensation actually looks like.
Whilst Scully’s pose appeared to give the impression of a good man trying to do all he can to help everyone affected, there is nothing in what he said that could stop him from turning around when there is less parliamentary and public pressure and saying there is nothing more he can do. I hope he realises the longer he does keep dragging this out, the more it will become his legacy.
The indefatigable Chris Head, one of the 555, and once the country’s youngest Subpostmaster, is circulating a letter to Boris Johnson and Kwasi Kwarteng (the BEIS Secretary of State). Chris is asking MPs and peers to sign the letter which details the work of the 555 in exposing the Post Office’s mendacity and calls on the Prime Minister to “recognise it is wholly unfair and immoral to exclude this group of people from full and fair compensation for their suffering”.
Chris’s MP Kate Osborne has signed the letter, and Kevan Jones MP, a long-standing campaigner for Subpostmasters has committed on twitter to signing it this evening.
I am currently watching Steven Murdoch give his thoughts about the Horizon IT system to the ONRecord podcast team. Steven knows a thing or two about IT being a Professor of Security Engineering and Royal Society Research Fellow at University College London. Steven is a very measured thinker and has been very supportive of my work from when I was reporting the group litigation. It’s a good watch.
The Law Society Gazette has been kind enough to review my book and have seen fit to give it 5 out of 5 stars. They have impeccable taste, as do the now 60+ people who have reivewed the book on Amazon.
David, my publisher, says these reviews are making a genuine difference to how Amazon pushes the book to new audiences.
Despite the supply chain problems (and I am deeply sorry if you were caught up in these), the book has been selling more-and-more week-on-week. It is being added to University reading lists and I am told it is shifting copies everywhere it is being sold in bookshops.
If our distributor, Orca, was able to supply Amazon, it might have been a hit book. Sadly, several thousand copies of The Great Post Office Scandal are sitting in Orca’s warehouse, and despite Amazon’s requests for product Orca don’t seem to have the ability to ship it.
We are not the only people caught up in Orca’s problems as this article in The Bookseller makes plain (first two paragraphs are free), but it is a little frustrating, to say the least. I realise most people reading this won’t have a subscription to The Bookseller so I have written to the magazine asking them to drop the paywall on the piece so actual book readers can have some kind of indication as to what is going on. If the paywall is dropped I’ll let you know.
Thanks so much to those of you who have said you are okay for me to pass your details on to media organisations who want to speak to people caught up in this awful scandal. I must admit my approach to this has been quite haphazard – I have literally been recommending people who I’ve spoken to most recently when journalists get in touch.
To that end I ended up on GB News with Janet Bradbury the other day because she’d emailed me about something she was having to deal with and when I was asked I thought she would make a great speaker, and simply because we’d recently been chatting on WhatsApp I ended up recommending Tim Brentnall to Sky News today.
I was delighted that Janet was such a compelling speaker that GB News got her on again this morning by going to her directly, giving her the opportunity to talk about her own case and develop a relationship with them. It was also a privilege to be on with Tim this afternoon – I hope Sky News go direct to him in future.
I am, by the same token, sorry if you are itching to say what you want to say about this scandal to a news organisation – please don’t consider me a gatekeeper – call up the BBC, Sky, ITV, Channel 4 and 5 and GB News and all the rest and let them knowyou want to be on air telling your story. Presuming the journalist you end up speaking to isn’t an idiot, they will be delighted you are getting in touch.
London launch nite
On 22 November we launched the Great Post Office Scandal book and the Horizon Scandal Fund charity. The photographer that evening was Mark Dimmock, who very kindly donated his fee to the Horizon Scandal Fund.
Mark has supplied a link to low-res versions of all the photos he took that evening. If you would like a hi-res version of any particular photo, please contact Mark directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. He is happy to give you a hi-res version for free, but if you are a someone (ie not a Subpostmaster) who is able to do so, we would all be very grateful if you would make a donation to the fund.
Photo gallery #4
I am deeply indebted to everyone who continues to send me such brilliant photos of the book. I am posting a few below for your edification and entertainment. I should probably use these photos in a clever marketing campaign, but actually it’s just lovely to see them, and it’s lovely to share them with you.
Oh and if you’re wondering what the 800-piece jigsaw is all about – it’s a metaphor Neil Hudgell coined – more in the blog post…!
Many thanks as ever.
Sheila Crispin says: “One honest, albeit fictional, bear is not amused by the shocking behaviour of those in authority. Thank you so much for the book, which I read during daylight hours after a 6 day loss of electricity in rural Cumbria.”
This is from Jonathan Kay, reading the book right next to the telegraph pole in the alley behind my house which has GPO stencilled into it, and is mentioned in book. It’s okay, he’s not a stalker, he is a legit neighbour. Our sons are at the same school…
This Wesley. Wesley has taste. His life is a work of art. He is comfortable reading the Great Post Office Trial when he is at rest.
It’s a scandal, isn’t it? Yes it is! Yes it is! Good dogs.
Lemmy Kilmicer (who owns secret emailer Brian Whelton) has already read one copy of the book, and is now onto his second. He finds it all appalling.
Finally, Matt, who works in the media, has brought Johnny Vegas’s Monkey Sidekick into contact with the book. A proud moment.
Thanks so much for all the photos – I am sorry I didn’t have a chance to fit them all in. Please keep sending them – and I’ll put them in the next newsletter. If you haven’t done one yet, some Christmassy pics for the last gallery before the 25th would be amazing.
The Post Office Horizon scandal is available for £25 as a hardback and £8.99 for an ebook (or £30 for both) from Bath Publishing. Please click here to buy it. Alternatively, please do forward this email to a friend. Everyone who buys a copy of the book through Bath Publishing will automatically be invited to join the “secret” email list.