• Press Release: Horizon Scandal Fund celebrates charitable status with substantial donation

    For immediate release – 22 September 2022

    The Horizon Scandal Fund is delighted to have received registered charitable status ten months after its launch.

    The Fund is celebrating the occasion by formally welcoming a substantial donation made by Flora Page, one of the barristers who represented three subpostmasters in their successful quest to overturn their criminal convictions at the Court of Appeal last year. Flora has donated her net fees of £3256 for working on the case to the Horizon Scandal Fund.

    The Horizon Scandal Fund supports Subpostmasters who are struggling financially, emotionally and physically as a result of the Post Office Horizon Scandal and/or the Post Office’s punitive methods in the first two decades of this century. During this period more than 700 people were criminally prosecuted using unreliable IT evidence and thousands more were sacked and/or forced to use their own income and savings to make good balancing errors.

    Flora Page, barrister, said: “When I offered to act for Seema Misra, Janet Skinner and Tracy Felstead, I wanted them to know that I would not profit from their appeals. It seemed important, because most of the multi-million settlement in the Bates litigation went to the lawyers and litigation funders. My clients are yet to receive anything like proper compensation. To keep my promise to three courageous women, I have donated my net fee for working on their appeals to the Horizon Scandal Fund. While the Post Office’s victims wait and wait for proper compensation, the Fund will offer some help, and try to keep people going.”

    David Chaplin, chair of the trustees, said: “Flora’s generous donation of £3256 is a welcome boost to the fund’s coffers. We have already helped several victims through short-term financial issues, for example paying rent. Significantly, we have also made grants to help with counselling and psychiatric services. It is a sharp reminder that the damage done by these wrongful convictions and arbitrary sackings was not just financial.”

    Nick Wallis, trustee, said: “Founding trustees Helen Lacey and David Chaplin, our new trustees and our lawyer Ian Fagelson (acting pro bono) have worked so hard to get our charitable status over the line. I am deeply grateful to them as I am to Flora and everyone who has donated anything to our newly-registered charity. I would urge everybody to take a look at horizonscandalfund.org which explains more about how the Fund can help improve peoples’ lives. Our charitable status means we are recognised by HMRC and can now take gift aid on all donations, which can be made very easily through our website.”

    David and Helen are running next month’s Bath Half Marathon in aid of the Horizon Scandal Fund.

    If you would like to interview Flora, David, Nick or Helen, please call Nick on 07976 432174 or David on 01225 577810. If you would like to speak to someone who has already been helped by the fund, please call David or Nick.

    NOTES FOR EDITORS

    The Horizon Scandal Fund (Registered Charity No. 1199595) considers all requests for grants to help people and families directly affected by the Post Office Horizon Scandal. The scandal is regarded as one of the most widespread miscarriages of justice in UK legal history. The Fund was launched on 18 November 2021. Its web address is www.horizonscandalfund.org and it can be found on twitter as @HSFforSPMs

    Flora Page represented Seema Misra, Janet Skinner and Tracy Felstead at the Court of Appeal and continues to represent them (they are designated core participants) at the Post Office Horizon Inquiry. All three had their convictions quashed on 23 April 2021.

    David Chaplin and Helen Lacey run Bath Publishing, which publishes Nick Wallis’s book The Great Post Office Scandal. The idea for the Horizon Scandal Fund arose during a series of discussions between the three over the course of 2021.

    Recently appointed trustees of the charity include a former Subpostmaster, a serving Subpostmaster and the relative of someone directly affected by the Horizon scandal. Their details can be found in the Charities Commission Register of Charities under the Horizon Scandal Fund.

    If you, your family or someone you know is directly affected by the Post Office Horizon scandal and you would like to ask for help, please email info@horizonscandalfund.org with more details about the situation and the sort of help you are looking for. All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence.

    ENDS

  • The Compensation Catch

    Deirdre Connolly outside the High Court’s Rolls Building during Bates v Post Office in 2018

    Last week Alan Bates stunned a small, but significant number of members of the Justice for Subpostmasters’ Alliance with a circular sent out on 12 September. The members concerned are a sub-group of the 555 claimants in Bates v Post Office who have what the government are terming ‘complex’ situations. There are about 100 of them. Some became mentally incapacitated before arranging lasting power of attorney (LPA), some are sadly dead, and the probate on their estate has not been sorted. Others are insolvent or bankrupt.

    Bates told this latter group ‘the stumbling block then, as it is now, is presently there is no money being made available by Government to sort out each of the complex claims like yours.’

    Bates acknowledged this was serious:

    ‘I know most of you are in dire financial straits and desperately need your interim payment soonest.… But as work has stopped on most of these cases it is not possible for anyone to say if, or when, you will receive anything… despite our best efforts, we cannot find out anything further.’

    Earlier this year the government did a u-turn on providing full compensation for the 555 claimaints who blew open the scandal by defeating the government at the High Court.

    For all of 2020 and a large chunk of 2021, it had told claimants that the Post Office’s settlement of £57.75m was ‘full and final’ despite around £46m being taken from that settlement in legal and funder’s success fees.

    In March 2022, the then Postal Affairs minister Paul Scully said the government had had a change of heart and proper compensation would be handed out to members of the 555. At the same time he announced that £19.5m would be made available immediately as interim compensation for the 555. Despite the immediacy of that announcement, there are still dozens of Subpostmasters who have yet to see a bean.

    It appears the apparent issue with a small number of claimants, including Deirdre Connolly (pictured above), is whether or not the trustees of any bankruptcy would have a claim on the interim payments.

    Totally devastated

    Deirdre is a former Subpostmaster from Northern Ireland. She ran the Killeter branch between 2006 and 2010. During the human impact hearings to the Post Office inquiry earlier this year she described her experience at the hands of the Post Office. When a £15,000 hole appeared in her accounts in 2010, a Post Office investigator asked if she was working with the paramilitaries. Deirdre and her family were devastated. After being suspended and then sacked, Deirdre became very isolated. She was bankrupted. Bailiffs repossessed her shop and she was branded a thief by the local community. The only reason the family kept the house was because they were in negative equity. Deirdre had a breakdown and considered taking her own life. She developed epilepsy. The strain of being a claimant in the group litigation caused a relapse. The money she received from the 2019 settlement was swallowed up by credit card bills.

    Deirdre and her family have been waiting years to receive fair compensation for what the Post Office did to them, but because of her bankruptcy, Deirdre is one of the ‘complex’ cases. Last week Deirdre told me:

    “I feel totally devastated. I thought it was coming to an end. I could finally start rebuilding my life but now I have been let down again. It’s so disheartening. Especially when I was told this payment was coming.”

    Freeths, the law firm who have been working with the JFSA and the government to share out the £19.5m, have set up a specialist team to advise on the issue of insolvencies and bankruptcies, but told claimants:

    “The Government will not yet sign off on the expense of this stage of work and they have decided that their Insolvency Service and internal legal team should review the position first.”

    A government source informed me this was correct, but that they were ‘surprised’ by Bates’ reaction to this decision, suggesting he might have ‘got the wrong end of the stick’.

    BEIS believe their decision to work with the Insolvency Service in the first instance is justified on the basis it will be ‘quicker and cheaper’. My source added: ‘if we need Freeths to do more work on this, we will take steps to extend our contract with them. We’ll do everything we can to get these payments out, one way or another.’

    David Enright from Howe and Co was fuming at being blindsided by the delay, writing on behalf of his clients to the chair of the inquiry Sir Wyn Williams to complain. In his letter, dated 12 September, he said he’d held a meeting with BEIS in late August where ‘the serious funding issue in relation to ‘complex’ cases was not mentioned.’

    Earlier this week Deirdre received a reply from the government (dated 15 September) to a personal enquiry she made asking what was going to happen to her. She was told:

    “We have been working with colleagues in the Insolvency Service to resolve the issues arising from your bankruptcy which have been preventing Freeths from making your interim payment.

    “That work is delivering valuable progress. We have cleared 20 cases for payment this week, and we expect shortly to resolve the issues for at least a further 6.

    “Unfortunately, it will take some more time as we work through the complexities of your bankruptcy.”

    Compensation consultation

    In the meantime, Deirdre, like all of the 555 claimaints, has been asked by the government to join in a consultation on how she and her fellow Bates v Post Office Subpostmasters should receive their final full and fair compensation. I hope whatever scheme the government settles on, it is not as disastrous as the Historical Shortfall Scheme.

    I think I am still right in saying no one who has had their conviction quashed, no one from the original 555 and no one with a significant claim (ie over £100,000) in the Historical Shortfall Scheme has received anything like the final amount they are looking for from the Post Office or government.

  • Barrister’s Letter to the DPP

    Sabah Meddings (in the Sunday Times) and Rebecca Thomson (in both the Sunday Times and on our podcast, Investigating the Post Office Scandal) have already reported that the barrister Paul Marshall (pictured) has written to Max Hill QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, asking him to consider bringing one or more charges of Perverting the Course of Justice (a criminal offence) against the Post Office or persons within it.

    I am now in possession of that letter, which I have uploaded below so you can read it in full, alongside the text of Mr Marshall’s speech at Queens University in Belfast earlier this year. The text of the speech was attached to the letter sent to the DPP (cc’d to various parties, including Lord Arbuthnot and the chair of the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, Sir Wyn Williams).

    The letter is concise. Conisder it a primer into a lot of the things that might be unlawful or illegal in the Post Office’s approach to perpetuating and then trying to cover up this scandal.

    The text of the speech will take you half an hour or so to read, but is well worth it if you are a campaigner, lawyer, politicain or journalist, or have an interest in corporate governance, or the Post Office itself.

    Reading the speech this morning a number of things leapt out at me, including one really important point I didn’t notice when I wrote a post drawing attention to the Swift report, which campaigner Eleanor Shaikh so skilfully extracted from the Business department last month.

    Parker in the middle

    On the advice of the Post Office General Counsel, Jane McLeod, Parker refused to show/failed to reveal the existence/contents of the report to the Post Office board (something for which he was later, privately, censured by the government).

    As we know from the Swift report, Tim Parker, chairman of the Post Office (pictured), was directly alerted to potential miscarriages of justice. Swift said the Post Office had “bullied” Subpostmasters “into pleading guilty to offences by unjustifiably overloading the charge sheet”, calling this “a stain on the character of the business”. Swift suggests the Post Office wheel in Brian Altman QC to have another (his fourth?) look at things.

    During the Bates v Post Office litigation, Marshall notes in his Queens Uni speech that Parker was chair of the Post Office litigation steering committee. When, in 2019, it came to the issue of attempting to recuse a High Court judge, Marshall reminds us the decision to apply to recuse had been taken at board level within the Post Office.

    Having spoken to three senior/middle-management people working in the Post Office at the time of the first trial judgment (which prompted the board’s recusal decision), I think it’s fair to say the general reaction within the business to Fraser J’s conclusions was one of astonishment. This was for one of two closely-related reasons.

    More possible perversion

    Either the Post Office, from top to bottom, had successfully rinsed itself in denial about the truth of what was happening and what it had done. Or the six year cover-up put in place by senior executives (since the Clarke Advice in 2013), and the Post Office’s Chairman, Tim Parker (by keeping the Swift review secret), had been so successful that the Post Office, including its own board, was not sufficiently prepared for Mr Justice Fraser’s detailed, damning, public evisceration of its behaviour.

    How else to explain the decision to apply to recuse? This was described, lest we forget, by Lord Justice Coulson as “misconceived”, “fatally flawed”, “untenable” and “absurd.”

    The only other explanation for the recusal application was that the Post Office board realised Fraser’s judgment meant the company was doomed unless they could use their limitless resources to try to blow everything up. If that was the case, it’s hard not to conclude this was a deliberate attempt to pervert the course of justice.

    Either way Mr Parker’s possible role in perpetuating the scandal and its cover-up has become a lot more interesting.

  • Secret 2016 Post Office Chairman’s Report Not Shared With PO Board

    Where to start with this…? Perhaps by thanking Eleanor Shaikh, whose forensic and determined FOI campaign has been unearthing some real gems.

    Yesterday, as a result of one of her requests, the Post Office published a hitherto secret report commissioned by the Post Office minister in September 2015 following the August 2015 Panorama investigation ‘Trouble at the Post Office’.

    I was told last month by a government source that this document was coming and was expected to set the cat among the pigeons. I hope it does.

    In 2015 Baroness Neville-Rolfe, on behalf of the government, told the incoming Post Office chairman Tim Parker to properly review the Horizon situation. He did so, commissioning the former First Treasury Counsel (top government lawyer) Jonathan Swift QC to investigate.

    Swift, who is now a judge – Mr Justice Swift – wrote a wide-ranging Review in which he largely (and as it transpires, wrongly) sided with the Post Office on most things. Swift nonetheless raised very strong warning signs that potential miscarriages of justice might have taken place. He is particularly concerned at the Post Office’s switcheroo tactic of charging Subpostmasters with theft and false accounting and then offering to drop the theft charge in exchange for a guilty plea to false accounting.

    “The allegation that POL has effectively bullied SPMRs [Subpostmasters] into pleading guilty to offences by unjustifiably overloading the charge sheet is a stain on the character of the business.” he says.

    “Moreover, it is not impossible that an SPMR would have felt pressurised into pleading guilty to false accounting believing it to be less serious when they might not otherwise have done so.”

    There is so much more in the Review which needs picking over, not least why it has stayed secret until 11 August 2022.

    Patrick Green QC, lead counsel for the claimants in Bates v Post Office, confirmed it was not disclosed to the claimants during the epic High Court group litigation (GLO). This morning he said:

    “The Review is an incredibly important document and we would have wished to have shown it to the Court if it had been available to us.”

    James Hartley from Freeths told me the Review was:

    “Yet more evidence of issues and questions of profound gravity that were known to the Post Office’s most senior management – at the very time when they were launching the most aggressive defence to the GLO claim that public money could buy.

    “Had the Post Office been transparent and responsible about how to address these issues then there is every likelihood that the GLO claimants could have been spared the ordeal of the High Court litigation that the Post Office put them through.”

    Parker’s “significant error”

    On legal advice from the Post Office’s General Counsel Jane MacLeod, the Review (and the as yet unknown “follow-up work” engendered by the Review) was not even shown to the full Post Office board.

    This “significant error of judgement” by Tim Parker was picked up in 2020 by the Post Office’s Senior Independent Director Ken McCall and reported to the government by the UKGI’s director on the Post Office Board, Tom Cooper. Cooper says McCall felt it would be wrong to take any action against Parker because it would be “disproportionate”.

    Cooper tells his colleagues in government that he hasn’t asked McCall “to put any of this in writing or come in to meet Ministers or officials to discuss, but this is an option.”

    As a result of Cooper’s email, Sarah Munby, the Permanent Secretary for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy wrote to Tim Parker in October 2020 saying:

    “We understand that you were advised at the time by the Post Office’s General Counsel that for reasons of confidentiality and preserving legal privilege the circulation of the report should be strictly controlled. Nevertheless, given the background of parliamentary interest, the fact that your review was commissioned by the Minister responsible for the Post Office and the potential significance of the recommendations made by Jonathan Swift QC, we consider it was an mistake not to have ensured that the whole board had an opportunity to see and discuss the detail of its findings and agree what any next steps should be. With hindsight, this information should have been seen by the board and we are disappointed that it wasn’t.”

    Analysis

    Richard Moorhead, Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at Exeter University has read the Review and says the points made about remote access seem to be “a bit of a show stopper both for its impact on potential appeals and on the Bates v Post Office litigation. Did Parker understand that Bates was run on the basis there was no remote access? It seems likely, and unless the views of Swift on remote access were strongly countered, this raises a significant question over that litigation and Parker’s Chairmanship.”

    Moorhead describes McLeod’s advice not to disclose the Review to the board “very concerning” adding “either the GC got the law of privilege wrong or she had a conflict of interest and should not have advised in these terms. The matters in the review were highly material to her client, the Company, and she had a professional obligation to ensure the relevant people knew of them. The report should have been disclosed to the Board.”

    Swift’s references to Brian Altman QC (brought in to advise the Post Office on disclosure in 2013) also intrigues Moorhead. The Post Office has so far refused to release the Altman Review of October 2013 which appears to contain some kind of test for disclosure to already criminalised Subpostmasters.

    Moorhead says the references in the 2016 Review to Altman are a “reminder of how important he was or might be to this saga. It provides an interesting contrast to the position Altman took in the Court of Appeal [in 2021] which was that they did not know how documents which should have been disclosed were not.”

    The 2016 Chairman’s Review is of considerable significance to this scandal, and is perhaps the most important document to be unearthed this year. I have uploaded to this blog post searchable versions of the 2015 commissioning letter, the 2016 Review itself and the 2020 email reporting Parker’s error of judgment.

    Rebecca Thomson and I will be discussing the Review with the barrister Paul Marshall in the next episode of our podcast “Investigating the Post Office Scandal”. You can find and listen to it by searching “Investigating the Post Office Scandal” and following on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Audioboom.

    UPDATE: Since I wrote the above post, Professor Moorhead has properly gone to town on what I think we are now calling the Swift Review. He has written an entire epic saga of substack posts fisking the Review, which are very much worth reading, especially if you are interested in corporate governance or one of m’learned friends:

    Swift I: The Perils of a Safe Pair of Hands

    Swift II: the GIGO problem

    Swift III: How legal framing can shift the balance of reviews

    Swift IV: The Gareth Jenkins Problem

    Swift V: Independent Reviews, breaking bad news gently

    Swift VI: Independence, a particular professional blindspot

    Swift VII: No systematic problem?

    Clicking on any one of the above links will take you to Professor Moorhead’s substack page. I highly recommend subscribing to his free newsletters.

  • Podcast Episode 6 – The Richards

    Subpostmaster Richard Hawkes and Professor Richard Moorhead speak to Rebecca Thomson

    6: Ep 6 – Richard Hawkes on his quashed conviction and Professor Richard Moorhead on legal ethics Investigating the Post Office Scandal

    Rebecca has been along to the Court of Appeal to witness five more Subpostmasters have their convictions quashed. She spoke to one of them – Richard Hawkes – about his ordeal. Rebecca has also interviewed legal blogger and academic Professor Richard Moorhead from Exeter University who has opened up an entire field of study based on the Post Office Scandal, particularly the legal failings which have been highlighted. Nick, on the other hand, is ill with what sounds like a suspicious dose of man-flue, and so has not contributed much to this episode other than sounding ill and needy.

    Rebecca and I have put up another podcast. Hopefully you can see it on the left (if you can’t, you can find it here). If this is the first you’ve heard of our podcast – Investigating the Post Office Scandal, you are more than welcome to have a listen to the first five episodes here. In Episode 1 we discuss what we should call the podcast, introduce ourselves and the scandal, and then we get going on it.

    Do subscribe, like and/or follow if you feel so inclined. You can find us on Spotify and Apple Podcasts if that’s where you prefer to listen to your audio stuff.

  • Compensation Hearing 2

    Bankruptcy and “severe psychiatric issues”

    Sangeeta Kalia, Davinder Misra, Parmod Kalia

    Barristers outlined the impact on their clients caused by the Post Office Horizon scandal, and lambasted the Post Office for fighting postmasters “tooth and nail”

    The second compensation hearing at the ongoing public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal heard that one in five of Hudgell Solicitors’ clients have experienced bankruptcy, and many have suffered “severe, enduring psychiatric issues” and long-term physical problems as a result of their ordeal at the hands of the Post Office.

    There is also a new three-week deadline in place for money to reach postmasters eligible for the government’s latest £19.5m pot.

    Psychiatric issues

    Tim Moloney QC, counsel for Hudgell Solicitors, which represents 63 postmasters, said the psychiatric issues postmasters experience often translate into physical illnesses which render them incapable of working, citing the example of one client who had been offered £15,000 compensation after being off work for three years with a stress-related illness.

    Moloney also referred to the “crippling” debts most former postmasters face, saying most interim payments are used to pay these debts:

    “Many have been in significant debt for very long periods of their lives. It’s not hyperbole to describe them as crippling debts. £100,000 sounds like a lot, but their debts are usually well in excess of that.” He added that a fifth of Hudgell’s 63 clients have experienced bankruptcy, saying: “That’s just one symptom of the havoc wreaked in people’s lives.”

    He added: “The position of many of the claimants is really bad, which you can image would be case after 15 years of being a criminal, a bankrupt, and in very low paid jobs.” He said many were in middle age when they took over their post office branches. “The last third of their earning life was blighted by this scandal, and their earning potential destroyed.”

    Moloney also drew attention three clients of Hudgells who are yet to receive any compensation. The Post Office chose not to contest their appeals and their convictions have been quashed, but the Post Office now refuses to pay compensation on the basis that it is not certain that Horizon caused the shortfalls in their cases.

    “In effect, they say: ‘Sue us in the civil courts.’ They say to these people who were wrongly convicted… that they will not pay them.” Parmod Kalia is one of these three former postmasters, and Nick and I spoke to him for our podcast on this week’s hearing.

    Fighting tooth and nail

    Flora Page, a barrister represting Seema Misra, Tracy Felstead and Janet Skinner, also criticised the Post Office’s attitude towards her clients and other postmasters, specifically with regard to its stance on postmasters unhappy with their compensation offers. The Post Office says those who don’t wish to accept settlements can seek alternative dispute resolution, arbitration or litigation. She said:

    “The Post Office has fought them tooth and nail, and once again it says if you don’t like what we offer we will fight you tooth and nail. Once again, the lawyers will get paid while the Post Office resists doing the right thing.”

    She added postmasters are still waiting for sums they were forced to pay to the Post Office up to twenty years ago when holes in branch accounts were first discovered: “We are told the historic failings are a matter of great regret but there is little evidence of this.

    “There is simply no justification for the Post Office keeping these sums – it’s been well over a year since the overturning of convictions, and there have been no moves of its own initiative to give these sums back.

    “Where is the proactive desire to right wrongs? I see very little evidence of the much-vaunted change at the Post Office, little evidence that the failings are indeed historic.”

    Three-week deadline

    Sam Stein QC, speaking on behalf of Howe & Co solicitors, which represents 153 postmasters, said an agreement had been reached during a break that offered a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for many of the 555 Group Litigation claimants (GLO).

    GLO claimants were the 555 postmasters who fought the Post Office in the High Court, winning their case in 2019 and bringing the scandal to light. The terms of that settlement dictated they would receive no other compensation, but this changed on June 30th, 2022, when the government announced a £19.5m interim pot.

    Yesterday (July 14th), Stein said, a timetable was devised for fast payment of that money, with law firm Freeths and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) working to get it to postmasters within three weeks.

    Rebecca Thomson, July 2022

    Rebecca’s report on Day 1 of the Compensation Hearings can be read here.


    Rebecca Thomson has a substack account, where a version of this article, alongside her other journalism is published.

    Nick Wallis is the author of The Great Post Office Scandal, available from Amazon, Bath Publishing and all good retailers.

    Nick and Rebecca have created a podcast called “Investigating the Post Office Scandal“, which can be found by searching on Spotify, Apple Music and via this link on Audioboom.

  • Compensation Hearing 1

    Kevin and Sharon Brown and Seema Misra after the hearing

    A barrister acting on behalf of postmasters claiming compensation from the Post Office last week described the process as a “scandal within a scandal.”

    Speaking at the first compensation hearing at The Oval cricket ground in South London on 6 July 2022, Howe & Co’s lead counsel Sam Stein QC, on behalf of 153 of the postmasters affected, said:

    “The approach of the Post Office and BEIS [the department for business, energy and industrial strategy] replicates past behaviour.

    “There is the danger of a scandal within a scandal about compensation.”

    The July hearings (the second is on 13 July) are designed to get to the bottom of problems with the compensation process. Nick and I recorded a podcast at the hearing which you can listen to here.

    There are several separate compensation processes:

    • · The first, the Horizon Shortfall Scheme (HSS), is for postmasters who repaid shortfalls and perhaps lost their businesses, but who weren’t prosecuted and weren’t part of the 555-strong group who took the Post Office to the High Court.
    • · The 555 received money in their £58m settlement but it only equated to £20,000 or less each – most was swallowed by legal bills. The terms of their settlement said they were not entitled to any further claim. This changed on 30 June 2022 when £19.5m was announced for this group.
    • · People with quashed convictions are immersed in their own mediation process

    The whole picture is further complicated by the fact that some of the 555 are in this group too.

    The core problems with the compensation process, as described during the first hearing and in the published submissions from legal teams, are:

    • · The Post Office is the final arbiter of how much compensation a postmaster is offered, despite being the organisation that caused their trauma in the first place.
    • · Postmasters are left in ignorance of the status of their claim and there have been delays of up to two years without news.
    • · The original form was confusing.
    • · There is a lack of full legal advice, with little funding available. Postmasters have to fund their own legal advice and can only claim a maximum of £1,200. Only 3% of postmasters applying to the main compensation scheme (named HSS) have had representation. Hudgells solicitors represent a group whose convictions have been overturned and say their team has not yet been paid anything so far, for what must be thousands of hours of work.
    • · The burden of proof is on postmasters – they have to prove their losses, and they have to prove other ‘consequential’ effects such as stress-induced illness or lost income. Sam Stein described many as suffering victim fatigue, with some likely to be experiencing undiagnosed PTSD, meaning many haven’t been able to face going through this process. He also said that in many, if not most, cases, the Post Office seized paperwork from postmasters during the audit process. There is some indication that some records were automatically destroyed after six years.
    • · Sometimes the Post Office is using evidence it holds on people to determine how much to offer the postmasters, but not telling them what evidence it used until an offer is made. Postmasters’ legal teams argue this is the wrong way around when the burden of proof is on postmasters.
    • · There is a lack of transparency over the principles applied when the Post Office and its legal team are assessing cases and making offers.
    • · For those who were prosecuted and have had their convictions overturned, the process is much more complicated and there are issues there too. The Post Office wants to pay a smaller amount of money than the postmasters feel is their due, and there were hints in the submissions that these cases could end up in court.
    • · The Post Office has refused to pay interim payments to people for amounts that have been agreed, while they consider another part of someone’s claim. This is contributing to postmasters’ continued financial problems.

    As a result of all these challenges, Stein said it is likely that a number of postmasters have accepted a lower amount of compensation than they might have been entitled to.

    Overall, delays and a lack of urgency to compensate people have been the biggest issue. Sam Stein said:

    “The harm that the Post Office has caused is ongoing and made manifest in desperate financial consequences.”

    He added:

    “When the Post Office wanted its money [when requiring postmasters repay shortfalls] they wanted it there and then, under threat of criminal prosecution.”

    Mr Stein described postmasters who are on the verge of bankruptcy, who have not been able to repay elderly relatives, who have had to sell jewellery, who visit the supermarket at 4pm to shop for reduced price food, and who can barely afford the parking and transport costs to attend the inquiry hearings.

    “There has been delay, obfuscation, they make statements and excuses. They do everything but pay up promptly. The money is needed right now, to solve immediate problems, to get people out of holes created by the Post Office.”

    £19m for the High Court litigants

    On June 30th BEIS put out a press release announcing a £19.5m pot of interim compensation for the 555 High Court claimants, who had previously been excluded from all schemes due to the terms of their High Court settlement.

    This announcement was released on the same day that the submissions to the inquiry were published. These contained scathing criticism from the legal teams acting on behalf of postmasters. Sam Stein said about that announcement:

    “This is a terrible scandal, it should not be an opportunity to secure public relations points through the media. BEIS has to be dragged kicking and screaming in the right direction.

    “It’s possible to believe that the Post Office is so incapable of understanding even now that they have victimised their own staff.”

    He added there was a lack of clarity over the way forward for that particular pot of money, no application process and no immediate hardship payments available.

    Rebecca Thomson, July 2022

    Nick adds: My thanks to Rebecca for her report. Rebecca has started her own reporting substack, covering Post Office issues and other stories which interest her. Here is the link if you want to subscribe: https://rebeccathomson.substack.com/

  • Book Talk Dates

    All the following dates have been confirmed and those with links have tickets on sale now. I am hoping to have a special guest at every event. Keep checking this page to see who has been confirmed!

    14 September – Sheringham Little Theatre, Sheringham

    16 September – The Quay Theatre, Sudbury

    19 September – Norwich Theatre Playhouse, Norwich with former Subpostmaster Ian Warren.

    10 November – Kenton Theatre, Henley-on-Thames

  • Three Day Book Tour!

    The Great Post Office Scandal had next to no advertising, marketing or launch budget. Bath Publishing are a tiny (but delightful and committed) publisher. TGPOS is their first mainstream book. They don’t have the sort of relationships that could see them wander into the Waterstones’ chief buyer’s office and tell them about their next hit publication. They can’t swing reviews as favours.

    Going out on the road and physically telling people about the book is therefore essential. It is something we can do.

    Bath Publishing and I have now worked with some wonderful folk in Wanstead, Manchester, Derby, Bath, Farncombe (Surrey) and Liverpool to put on a series of readings and Q&As – many involving former Subpostmasters. The response has been astounding.

    Ver Tap

    My first talk before a paying audience was at The Wanstead Tap on a Wednesday night in January. It is a lovely venue, with a committed live events audience, but I don’t know anyone in Wanstead. It sold out. Fifty people bought tickets costing £8.50 to hear me talk about the story, on spec.

    I had no visual aids and no real clear idea of what I was going to do, but I was happy to give it a go. I needn’t have worried. People are so engaged and enraged by this story. They just want to find out more. So I told them everything I knew. After two hours we had to knock it on the head, but it was such a powerful experience.

    Going live

    Over the last couple of months I have spoken at various venues, with various different guests attending and had the same incredible response. Seventy people in Manchester, a hundred people in Bath, two hundred people in Farncombe. Last week in Liverpool four former Subpostmasters came along, two of whom I hadn’t met before. I invited them onto the stage and they spoke so movingly about their experiences, it became very emotional. But people did not leave sad, they were motivated and determined.

    St John’s church, Farncombe

    The last question asked by a member of the audience at the Liverpool event was a rather plaintive “What can we do to help?”

    As I burbled a bit, a former Subpostmaster turned to the questioner and politely said “Tell. Everyone.”

    So that’s what we’re going to do.

    A friend of mine is a live events producer who knows the bookers at most of the small theatres in the UK. Between us we have put together a run of three nights based on a format which has been growing organically since my first reading in Wanstead. There is the usual introduction to the story and a few short readings, but this time we are going to put together some audio-visual testimony and explanatory media to make it a more comprehensive experience. As before, we will be joined by some very special live guests.

    To ensure the venues are happy and to cover the costs of things like a professional sound engineer, travel, accommodation and food, we are selling tickets, but we have tried to keep prices as low as possible, so you can bring your friends. 10% of everything we make on this mini-tour will go to the Horizon Scandal Fund.

    The first dates we have booked are:

    29 June 2022 – Ropetackle Theatre, Shoreham-by-Sea – info and tickets here.

    30 June 2022 – Chequer Mead Theatre, East Grinstead – info and tickets here.

    1 July 2022 – Leatherhead Theatre, Leatherhead – info and tickets here.

    We want audiences to come along hungry to find out more. We want them to depart having been armed with the facts of this scandal and determined to spread the word. Please put one of these dates in your diary if you can – especially to the Leatherhead event – the theatre there has 500 seats!! It would be great to see you and I promise they will all be unforgettable events.

    Thanks.

  • 73 Convictions Quashed

    This week the 73rd Subpostmaster conviction was quashed. Margaret White (neé Sowinska), ran the Banbury Road Post Office in Oxford. In 2007, she pleaded guilty to two counts of false accounting after Post Office “auditors” found a £28,000 discrepancy at her branch. That conviction was quashed at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.

    The Oxford Mail has a write-up, here.

    Of the two other cases heard the same day, one was adjourned, the other was opposed and a judgment will be made in due course.

    According to information I have been given, of the 706 convictions Post Office convictions which the Post Office believes may be Horizon-related, 100 have now been through the appeal courts.

    72 convictions have been overturned unopposed and 28 have dismissed, abandoned or refused permission.

    One Postmaster conviction secured by the DWP (using Horizon evidence) has been overturned, a further five have either been opposed by the CPS and upheld or abandoned.

    Statistical oddity

    The Court of Appeal has so far maintained its record of failing to overturn any case which the Post Office has opposed, whilst also quashing all the convictions of those whose appeals have been unopposed.

    It’s not clear how much actual analysis of each case the Court of Appeal is doing, or what effect this might be having on CCRC referral decisions.

    The barrister Paul Marshall, who represented Seema Misra, Janet Skinner and Tracy Felstead told me:

    “The Court of Appeal appears to have adopted, as the determinant of whether an appeal is allowed or not, a test that correlates exactly with whether the Post Office resists the appeal or contests it.

    “If the Post Office contests the appeal, the Court of Appeal… appears to adopt a formula that in loose terms is…: ‘was Horizon/its reliability central to the prosecution’?

    “While attractive for its beguiling simplicity, that formulation… may be doubted. For the whole of the relevant period, the only accounting system available to the Post Office was Horizon. Further, there was, intentionally, no other parallel system…

    “The only way in which the Post Office was able to evidence amounts paid out or in was by Horizon. Without doing too much injustice to the Court of Appeal’s approach, to apply a test of whether the issue is a “shortfall of cash or stock” might suggest that the court may not have fully grasped the full scale, consequences and effects of Horizon’s unreliability – or various other unresolved doubts about the Post Office’s systems and processes.

    “Oversimplification may readily be productive of error.”

    I will be putting Mr Marshall’s points to the CCRC and Court of Appeal in due course.

Hello and welcome to Post Office Scandal – a website dedicated to covering the multi-faceted, ongoing, Post Office Horizon IT scandal.
My name is Nick Wallis, I am a journalist and I am responsible for the content on this website. You can contact me here.
I have written a book called The Great Post Office Scandal, fronted a Radio 4 series, co-written a Private Eye special and been involved in three Panoramas as (variously) producer, presenter and consultant.
The predecessor to this website is Post Office Trial, which covered the Bates v Post Office High Court litigation and the subsequent hearings at the Court of Appeal.

Categories

Tags

Bates v Post Office BEIS Brian Altman CK Sift Review Clarke Advice Crowdfunding Eleanor Shaikh False Accounts Fraser Fujitsu Grabiner Horizon Ian Fagelson Ian Henderson ICL Inquiry Janet Skinner John O'Sullivan Kevan Jones MP Lord Arbuthot Mediation Scheme Miscarriages of Justice Neuberger Nicki Arch Origins of a Disaster Outcasts Creative Pam Stubbs Post Office Scandal Questors Theatre Rebecca Thomson Recusal Richard Moorhead Rollout Second Sight Secret email Shredding Simon Clarke Swift Review Tracy Felstead Walk Wendy Buffrey

Subscribe For Latest Blog Updates

Archives