Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Act becomes law

Kathleen Crane celebrating her conviction being quashed in January this year with her daughters Lucy (l) and Katy (r)

Congratulations to those Subpostmasters who no longer have convictions blighting their lives.

A huge cohort of people now have access to a minimum of £600k each by way of compensation.

Two important groups are currently excluded.

1) Scottish Subpostmasters.

Thanks to foot-dragging by the Scottish authorities, Scottish Subpostmasters are not (yet) having their convictions quashed. Horizon was used in Scotland and was just as unreliable there as it was in the rest of the UK. Post Office investigators in Scotland were as bad as those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. So were their investigations. It is aribtrary and unfair that several dozen Scottish Subpostmasters and their families are having to wait (after many years delay already) to get their convictions quashed.

2) Subpostmasters whose appeals have been refused.

This is more tricky. Despite claiming it will look at all aspects of a case, since 2021 the Court of Appeal appears to be ignoring inept Post Office investigations and focusing on whether Horizon evidence was “essential” to any prosecution (the terms of the original referral from the Criminal Cases Review Commission).

Wendy Cousins

Some appeals appear to have been deservedly refused. Some appear to have been refused because the Court of Appeal (and, at times, the Subpostmasters’ own representatives) have focused on how “essential” Horizon might be rather than stepping back and looking at evidence and (lack of) criminal intent across the piece.

I was in court to hear Wendy Cousins’ case in 2021 and I met her family last year (Wendy sadly died in 2022). I have looked at the information available. There is no hard evidence that she was involved in any criminal activity. There is the possibility of criminal activity at her branch, and a similar possibility of criminal activity outside her branch.

There is the possibility that no criminal activity was taking place at all, and errors were being made by her or others either inside or outside her branch. Horizon was being used to record data which was eventually used in her prosecution and the people who investigated Wendy were the Post Office’s usual inept team who assumed guilt whilst failing to conduct a thorough investigation.

Knowing what we now know about the Post Office’s investigation failures and the gaps in this particular case, I think if Wendy’s appeal were to be heard again, it could, or even should have a different outcome. This, again, seems arbitrary and unfair in the light of the new law.

Slipping through the net

Some people who may be guilty will now have their convictions quashed and access to a minimum of £600,000 compensation, providing they sign a statement of innocence. This leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. On that:

a) We simply don’t know how many people among the 700+ people who still have convictions are guilty or innocent. No idea whatsoever. And that is down to the staggering incompetence of the Post Office investigators. They didn’t know what they were doing. Ron Warmington from Second Sight, a highly experienced fraud investigator, told the Post Office this in 2013, when he wrote:

POL investigators and investigations are overwhelmingly focused on obtaining an admission of False Accounting from the interviewed SPMR (or employee).

POL Investigators often appear to have paid scant attention to the interviewee’s assertions of innocence or his/her reference to specific transaction anomalies. They seem to have shown little or no willingness to establish the underlying root cause of any given shortfall. This disinterest seems to be driven by the desire to ‘get the money back’ from the SPMR, knowing that a False Accounting conviction will provide a relatively inexpensive (to POL) pathway to that goal.


The overwhelming impression gained from reviewing the transcripts of investigative interviews is that the SPMR was viewed as an enemy of the business. The culture within the Investigation Team appears to be one of a presumption of guilt when conducting an investigation, rather than the aim of seeking the truth.

That (on the face of it) is straight up abuse of process.

b) It is a foundation stone of our democracy which suggests it is (morally) better that ten guilty people go free than one innocent person is convicted of a crime (Blackstone’s ratio). Well, this is what that lofty ideal looks like when it is applied in real life. Not so noble, but still, I think, makes the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Act a sensible and pragmatic course of action.

Well done all

Finally, congratulations to Alan Bates and the vanguard campaigners at the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance. Without them, today simply would not have been possible. Congratulations to the lawyers, Paul Marshall, Flora Page and Lisa Busch, the four members of the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board – Prof Chris Hodges, Lord Arbuthnot, Kevan Jones and Prof Richard Moorhead – all of whom had a huge amount of behind-the-scenes influence in making today happen. And although it pains me to praise anyone in any government, well done to Rishi Sunak, Kemi Badenoch, Alex Chalk and (probably most of all) Kevin Hollinrake and their teams. I think history will judge them well for their work in making this historic day happen.

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22 responses to “Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Act becomes law”

  1. Ok, I’ve been following the UK Post Office scandal from Canada, so my grasp of UK politics may be feeble.

    But it struck me as just a bit too coincidental that the Tory government finally leapt into action on this matter just as Paula Vennells testified, while immediately calling an election at the very same time.

    Doesn’t that demonstrate a certain eagerness to evade responsibility for their many years of inaction? As well as an attempt to bury the Post Office scandal as an election issue?

    Tell me if I am overstating the case…

    Will Wilson
    Niagara-On-The-Lake, Canada

    1. The Govt has indeed been in this up to necks. But Tories (whom I loathe) no more than others.
      labour forced horizon on po knowing it was a disaster, and Alice Perkins is Mrs Jack Straw.
      Libdems feature in this phase as witnesses.
      James Arbuthnot was a Tory until Bojo whom he couldn’t trust.
      This is a rare situation where it’s decades of HMG of all stripes, not party-specific. That’s why there’s been so little overt point-scoring. They’re all implicated. The only reason Fujitsu hasn’t been sued (yet) is decades of government contracts (not that ex CEO was married to a Tory Minister)
      And as Alan bates rightly said, it’s probably more the officials. They briefed the Ministers. They sat on the board. And they didn’t come and go with elections.
      Read James Arbuthnot’s witness statement – he even names names.

      Again, I am not defending the Tories. They are also deep in it (from major’s ppp through Cameron’s coalition) and definitely politicked in last year (eg announcing more £ for malicious prosecution just before Inquiry looked at Lee C,a civil case).
      But they are too self-interested to let anything other than their prospects (or Rishi’s kids’ holidays) time the election.

  2. Perhaps now time to wind up the inquiry to remove the delaying excuse for further action ?

    1. One of the SPM lawyers said in an interview the only good thing about the Inquiry going on is that it keeps some pressure (exposure)on redress, which Govt an lawyers are slowing down so badly, but magically announce something each time the Chair holds a hearing.

  3. Now concentrate on those excluded from the exoneration ( those refused at appeal, the many not prosecuted but forced to ‘ make good’ Horizon shortfalls)…..also for starters the police should just concentrate on the details of the Rudkin ‘ boiler room’ visit and who was behind the mysterious £44k shortfall the next day

    1. Yes!

  4. Michael Rollings avatar
    Michael Rollings

    Dear Nick
    First thank you for signing two of the three books I purchased ,one in person in Darlington (left hand) and the other remotely,thanks to Bath Publishing.
    The ethos of a Company is determined by its employees. It starts at the top, therefore the key action, I believe, is who makes the appointments?
    It is a situation I have faced from both ends as a potential employee and an employer. I have substantiated evidence that get it right and work is a joy,get it wrong and it becomes a nightmare.
    Also in the case of Paula Vennells, who decided, in their infinite wisdom, that she should be awarded a CBE?This was done even after the most casual news follower was aware of what had gone on within the PO organisation for years(largely down to your goodself)
    In this detail lies a myriad of misdemeanours and misjudgements.In other words who was ultimatley responsible.Paula Vennells did not appoint herself! Could it be a Civil Servant or a combination of people.
    Thanks again for all you do. Michael Rollings

  5. Congratulations to all those who can receive some respite from this horrendous, decades-long ordeal. It is still nowhere near enough in reparations, to those who have lost their livelihoods, and even more so to those who tragically lost their lives.

    We must not stop here. It will still take time and pain, but criminal proceedings must now be undertaken to punish those accountable.

  6. As far as Scotland is concerned, there is a suspicion that one former head of that administration [ and her partner ] may be guilty of some unrelated misdemeanor. I believe that they have been interviewed by the police under caution and that a file has been sent to the Procurator Fiscal. The successor to this person may have accepted financial support from an unwise source and has now resigned.
    If senior politicians are not squeaky clean, should they be holding up pardoning others, less fortunate than themselves, most of whom are probably innocent of the crimes for which they have been convicted?

  7. Fire Down Below! All hands on deck! Ms Vennells is both a very clever person … and an extremely stupid one! Clever over her handling of the POL Board, and breathtakingly stupid (or self serving) in not exercising her responsibility to declare a crisis (‘fire’ engulfing POL) and issuing commands to her ‘team’.

  8. My view is that this tragedy and trauma has gone on for so long for the postmasters and mistresses, that it is better that the courts, on behalf of the nation, declare the innocence of every one of these people. If a few guilty people get away with their crimes then so be it. Better that those poor people are finally recognized as innocent than wait even longer for more investigations to take place. I would also rather the money went to them than yet more legal people.

  9. Heidrun Toben avatar

    That is such great news! It is bringing tears to my eyes, but for once tears of gladness, instead of the tears of sadness that have accompanied my journey down the rabbit hole of the post office scandal.

    And don’t forget the contributions from Rebbecca and yourself. Your dogged pursuit of the story and bringing it (and continuing to bring it) to the attention of the public. You are essential to this positive development.

    Since I have not lived in the UK since 1996, I wasn’t really aware of this huge issue until recently. Now I am completely immersed. I bought the audio version of your brilliant book. When I came to Martin Griffith’s story, I had to pause, because reading about it elsewhere had horrified me so much.
    I am slowly listening through all episodes of your and Rebecca’s podcast.
    I watched the 4-part docu drama when it was broadcast by public television here in the US.
    I am watching the public inquiry.
    And my heart is heavy for all those who went to their graves without being exonerated and having their good names restored. The lives marred and destroyed and the years lost of the thousands of people caught in this appalling miscarriage of justice.
    Please keep up the good work.

  10. Congratulations to all who have had their wrong convictions quashed and to all of you who have made it possible!! Well done!

  11. This has been a very emotional story to follow. The sheer hell those people have been through, makes me weep, literally. I hope the people of this country support all of your efforts to see justice prevail, because justice is everyone’s concern, not just lawyers and the police. All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.

    I sincerely hope those people that brought this injustice face the sheer hell that they have inflicted. I can’t accept mistakes were made. It was clearly a conspiracy that was found out due to the tenacity of, mainly one man, Alan Bates. I thank you for keeping us up to date. My brother is a SMPR, it is only sheer luck that he is not caught up in this.

  12. Dougie Undersub avatar
    Dougie Undersub

    While this affair is an exceptional one, I remain disquieted by the notion of a Government legislating to overturn the findings of a criminal court. We already have a mechanism for this, so my preference would have been for much increased resources to the CCRC and Court of Appeal to have all the cases properly reviewed.
    IMHO, a Royal Pardon would be a better route if a blanket approach is to be taken. I know Alan Bates has opposed this route but he’s not God. We don’t have to do everything he says.

    1. A pardon is used to forgive those who have actually committed crimes.
      In the case of the subpostmasters it would be another demeaning indignity to add to the list they’ve had to put up with for over two decades as they were framed and forced to confess to crimes they never committed in the first place.
      As for the courts, there is the the matter of some of the surviving subpostmasters who after being destroyed by Britain’s judiciary, now hate it and are traumatized by the thought of going before another bunch of judges. Should they be left with the choice to either suffer in silence till they die, or torture themselves one more time to get exoneration from the false criminal convictions?
      In an ideal world, Carr J, head of the judiciary, would have used her appearances in front of the relevant parliamentary committees to attack the MPs for killing the legal system with spending cuts and demand they be reversed so that she and her learned subordinates could help clean up the bloodbath her predecessors are complicit in.
      But it’s not an ideal world and she did not do so.
      So we’re left with the Parliamentary option.

  13. Janette Birch avatar

    how wonderful, this is the best news! Some of those who have been exonerated today must be at least a bit torn between going out and dancing in the street outside Aldwich House and staying in the inquiry room to see PV drop herself and POL even further in it.
    Congratulations to everyone involved 🎊

  14. The worst aspect of this legislation, apart from the other aspects that are even worse, like the legislature invading the judiciary’s sphere, is that we don’t actually know who is being pardoned.

    It’s a shocking indictment of the Government starving the judiciary of resources that this has become the only timely route by which some semblance of justice can be achieved. And, of course, POL continuing to be as obstructive as it can be whilst claiming not to be.

  15. Thank you so much for the updates, and lets hope proper compensation will be delivered. I would hope even those who are guilty will have developed a conscience and WON’T Step forward to illegitmately claim money.
    Thank goodness too for Ron Warmington’s due diligence and search for the truth. I can only hope those found lacking or lying during this enquiry end up in prison where they deserve to be.

  16. Surely the guiltiness is quite calculable.

    Work our the frequency of convicted subpostmaster fraud pre-Horizon.

    Then apply ratio that to the 700

  17. Mark O'Meara avatar
    Mark O’Meara

    The POL should pay for full pages in every newspaper in the UK (local as well as national), in order to announce this new Act, and they should include photos (or names) of every person whose conviction has been quashed by this Act or otherwise.
    These people’s reputations were publicly damaged by the Post Office’s actions, and the Post Office should now apologise publicly as a way of restoring reputations.

  18. Stephen Henson avatar
    Stephen Henson

    Isn’t it a bit harsh to accuse the Scottish Government of dragging their heels when as I believe it the Uk Fivernment could have made this bill cover the whole of the Uk?

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