Hello there, secret emailers.
You may have seen a meme doing the rounds about the curse of Liverpool FC. It tells of the various random mishaps which may have contributed to the club’s failure to win the Premier League since it started.
This season, Liverpool were on course to win the title by a distance. Now it seems unlikely the Premier League season will finish. Funny, perhaps, if the situation weren’t so serious.
Followers of the Post Office Horizon scandal may know the feeling. The period during which the Bates v Post Office group litigation took place was obliterated by Brexit. The settlement announcement was by dominated by a general election and last week’s epic developments coincided with unprecedented emergency measures to keep down the death rate as the country is swept by a global pandemic.
Whilst this might not necessarily be a time for jokes, one correspondent did note the organisation leading the epidemiological modelling of the pandemic is Imperial College, whose NHS Trust is chaired by Paula Vennells. Could it be she had a hand in directing the change in the modelling which led to the dire predictions which forced the shut down just as the Post Office story was about to reach a new significant milestone?! Well, could it?! [pulls on blunt, adjusts tinfoil hat] Who knows…
Wanting to keep an eye on developments in the Post Office Horizon scandal (and the fate of Liverpool FC’s title bid) whilst we also worry about the effects of coronavirus requires careful navigation. Sport is occasionally called a “glorious irrelevance”. It’s also an important part of people’s lives, livelihoods and identity. The same is true of those people who have been deeply affected by the Post Office scandal. Human beings are a sophisticated bunch, and we are capable of caring about lots of things of competing importance at once. What I’m basically saying is that I think it’s okay to keep focused on the Post Office whilst respecting the fact that people have other things on their minds, some of which might be matters of life and death.
To be fair, whilst the events of last week wrt the Post Office story were pretty seismic I wouldn’t have necessarily expected them to lead a national news bulletin even during normal times. Though one particular moment might have come close: the referral of 39 Post Office cases by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to the Court of Appeal.
These multiple, record referrals should send shockwaves through the judicial system. Applicants who pleaded guilty were sent through to the Court of Appeal alongside those who had always protested their innocence. The list reads like a litany, and whilst more (but by no means all) of the remaining 22 cases still with the CCRC are expected to be referred, the initial 39 have created history.
As well as writing up the story, Karl Flinders at Computer Weekly has published an intriguing interview with Helen Pitcher from the CCRC. I spoke to Helen myself on Thursday for a BBC Radio 4 series I am putting together. To be perfectly honest, she seems like a breath of fresh air.
Intriguingly, in its response to the CCRC referrals, the Post Office has said it is reviewing an as-yet-unknown number of prosecutions outside of those being considered by the commission. I’ve asked the Post Office for the numbers and the charges involved. Top journalist Tony Collins has been thinking about the implications of these reviews.
And let’s not forget, just before all the CCRC excitement, we had another enormous moment. Claimant Subpostmasters started to receive “emergency” lump sums from the £57.75m litigation settlement to help them out during the coronavirus outbreak.
This is the first time any Subpostmaster who was part of the initial group of campaigners has received any direct financial redress.
The motive behind the emergency payment, no doubt, was a desire to help, but the way the money was apportioned has caused confusion and anger.
Freeths (the claimants’ solicitors) were at pains to point out that the sums handed over had no proportionate bearing on the final sums each claimant will receive, but then offered no explanation as to how the interim sums had been calculated.
I know two people with a criminal convictions – one received £500 and one received £10,000. Freeths did say they hoped to get all the final sums to all the claimants by June. That was over a week ago – the UK has been turned upside down in that time. Let’s wait and see.
Incidentally, a number of legal firms are now offering their services to those who weren’t part of the claimant group, those whose cases have been referred to the court of appeal and those who are still exploring ways of seeking legal redress against the Post Office. I’ve been meaning to put together a blog post with all that information on it and will make a it priority this week.
As well as Karl’s excellent work at Computer Weekly, the Daily Mail did a piece on the CCRC referral (print version on the right) and if you could possibly buy a copy of Private Eye magazine this week, I would be most grateful. I’ve been working with Eye staffer Richard Brooks on-and-off for a number of years on this story. Since the judgment we’ve been collaborating on a special six page report which goes into this week’s magazine.
Please, on your next state-sanctioned visit to a supermarket, buy a copy of the magazine. If you would prefer, have it couriered to you directly on subscription.
You can get 12 months worth of satire, hard news, cartoons and investigations for less than a pound a week.
And minimal human contact.
Thanks again to all the new subscribers and contributors. I got quite a few emails over the weekend from people who are stuck in their houses. If coronavirus causes a few more people to reach out, I won’t complain. I promise I read everything I get sent and I am sorry if I am not able to respond to every email or message. I do appreciate receiving them and will respond if I can.
I realise these are scary times and many of us may well be directly affected by the virus as it takes hold. I realise I sometimes don’t come across as someone who takes everything very seriously. But I am taking this virus very, very seriously, and we as a family are learning new and exciting things about being incarcerated together, exercising (I know!) and and queuing for food.
Have a great week. If you need to share any thoughts you have about the Post Office story and/or the coronavirus, just hit reply. Please also forward this email to bored friends and relatives stuck in their homes. Maybe encourage them to sign up. I’ll try to keep them entertained and informed.