What’s really going on with the Subpostmaster compensation schemes pt. 1

Paul Marshall

I’ve obtained a letter to Sir Wyn Williams, written by the barrister Paul Marshall. Sir Wyn is the retired judge who chairs the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry. Paul Marshall represents, in his words, “some of those most grievously affected by the Post Office’s conduct”.

The letter is dated 9 January 2024. Whilst recent government announcements, prompted by an ITV drama series, may come to supersede some the concerns expressed in the letter, we should bear in mind that Marshall was writing more than four years after the Bates v Post Office High Court settlement which set in motion the haphazard compensation schemes various groups of Subpostmasters need to negotiate in order to get their hands on the money (and earnings potential) which was stolen from them.

This letter is evidence the Post Office and government continued, at least until very recently, to say fine words in public whilst, behind-the-scenes, playing games with peoples’ lives.

It’s a long letter, so I’ll divide the issues it raises into a series of blog posts.

Subpostmaster claimants in Bates v Post Office with criminal convictions

In this extract Marshall is outlining the case of someone with a criminal conviction who was a claimant in the civil case Bates v Post Office. Having had their conviction quashed, they pursued compensation. They initially accepted a paltry amount because of the Post Office’s claim that despite their conviction being quashed, Horizon evidence was not “essential” to their case. The Post Office and government would therefore count this individual as having settled their claim and accepted full and final compensation. I have added links and comments in square brackets for clarity where appropriate. Marshall writes:

“I have recently been asked to represent, and have agreed to represent, someone in the “Overturned Convictions” scheme…

I shall refrain from naming the individual concerned. In December 2022 they entered into a settlement agreement in the course of a mediation in which they were legally represented (not by me).

The Post Office’s position, in essence, was that the individual’s appeal was not opposed merely on pragmatic grounds and that other evidence existed that warranted prosecution, other than Horizon data alone, but that a further prosecution was considered not to be in the public interest.

The individual concerned had made a statement accepting that they had (improperly) taken Post Office money. It is unnecessary, for present purposes, to elaborate the (unsatisfactory) circumstances in which that statement was obtained by the Post Office.

At the mediation, the individual concerned felt under acute pressure to agree to settlement of their claim in consideration for payment of a modest sum (a fraction of the £600,000 offered by the government in September 2023 to all those convicted whose convictions had been quashed) when considered against the devastating impact that a criminal conviction for an offence of dishonesty has had upon them and upon their family, over many years.

Against the sum offered by the Post Office, the Post Office demanded that credit be given for a small amount of compensation received in 2020. That was at the direction of the steering committee of the group (GLO) claimants. That compensation was paid ex gratia out of sums paid by the Post Office under the terms of the December 2019 Settlement Deed, that otherwise stood solely and exclusively to the credit of the ‘Not Convicted Claimants’ in the GLO litigation.

In March 2023 I wrote to Minister Hollinrake MP at the Department for Business and Trade [DBT], expressing my view that such a deduction (actual or demanded), of which I was generally aware in the Overturned Convictions Scheme to be the Post Office’s position, was contrary to principle as a matter of law. The Department for Business and Trade rejected my view, as did the Post Office.

I am nevertheless satisfied that I was, and am, correct in my analysis [reader, he was], and that both the Post Office and DBT were wrong in theirs. There are two minor issues on this.

First, it exhibits a willingness on the part of the Post Office (and DBT) to contest meritless/bad legal points with some vigour and at some expense (it took until December 2023 to address it) – there are troubling echoes of its conduct of the Bates GLO litigation.

Secondly, the Post Office sought credit against payments made by third parties, not by it, which might be thought unattractive and grasping – certainly not disinterested and objective, as one might hope.

Without condescending to detail, that I believe to be unnecessary for present purposes, in recent evidence given before you in the Inquiry, it emerged that the person responsible for the investigation of the individual to whom I have referred did not accept or believe the account that they had given of their having improperly taken the Post Office’s money. They were nevertheless charged with theft. In the course of other evidence given to you, it emerged that the Post Office’s investigation was not properly conducted and that the alleged losses identified at the individual’s Horizon accounts were consistent with what may be conveniently termed “Horizon shortfalls”.

So the position, in short, is that the Post Office in a mediation contended that it had material that would have warranted prosecution, so as to take the circumstances outside the class of prosecutions where “Horizon data” was essential – the Court of Appeal’s chosen threshold requirement for allowing an appeal. But that material, upon scrutiny in the Inquiry, was revealed to be profoundly unsatisfactory as a matter of evidence. Had it been challenged, but for a guilty plea, it would have been ruled inadmissible.

Where does this leave mediations that have resulted in settlement, both in this specific circumstance and in similar circumstances where obtained upon an apparently false premise/representation? Further, what are the issues in connection with the conduct of the Post Office’s original investigations and their propriety and reliability? Perforce, only a tiny number of actual investigations have fallen to be considered by the Inquiry. But it is reasonable to infer that failure in the proper conduct of a Post Office investigation in this particular example is not an isolated instance, indeed, there is evidence in the Inquiry that that is so.

There is, I believe, a serious issue as to the stability of agreements reached upon a false premise. As a matter of the law of contract, vitiating factors include mistake and misrepresentation. How, going forward, are negotiated settlements such as these, entered into on a false basis, going to be treated/addressed? There is fertile opportunity for subsequent satellite litigation.

I have written to Herbert Smith Freehills [perhaps the biggest and most expensive law firm the Post Office retains] inviting the Post Office, in this particular instance, to agree to set the settlement aside. I am yet to receive a response. I am drawing the issue to your attention because I believe it gives rise to wider concerns. The circumstances, as these are now known, arise as a direct result of evidence given in your Inquiry.

It is of particular concern that the individual concerned was given to feel so pressured, and, if I might say so, ‘overborne’ in the mediation and left with what they understood to be essentially no choice but to settle on the only terms that the Post Office offered. I am told that those representing the Post Office on the mediation included Mr Simon Recaldin of the Post Office, and Mr Alan Watts, a partner in Herbert Smith Freehills.

More generally, the circumstances in this particular case raise important wider questions about facts and matters relied upon by the Post Office as causing other cases to fall outside the Court of Appeal’s chosen heuristic ‘is this a case where Horizon data was essential to the prosecution?’

Unless the relevant circumstances are explored in evidence before you in the Inquiry, it is not, as a matter of practical reality, possible to test or otherwise scrutinise in detail the ‘other circumstances’ relied upon by the Post Office as taking any particular case outside those where the Court of Appeal treats the conviction as unsafe.

It is only by fortuity that it has emerged that the Post Office investigator of the individual to whom I have referred did not believe the account that was given, that was otherwise said to constitute a confession and cause the circumstances, for that reason, to allegedly fall outside a “Horizon data” case.

One is driven to wondering how many similar cases there may be where Post Office investigations were flawed and their evidential product consequently unreliable and inadmissible? Given the extensive and substantial criticisms made by Mr Duncan Atkinson KC in evidence given by him, including absence of standard safeguards and procedures, such as those adhered to by the Crown Prosecution Service, and the absence of requisite independence of investigating and prosecuting agencies, there must necessarily be serious misgivings that, were such Post Office evidential material to be examined, it would not withstand serious scrutiny.

It was only as a result of your Inquiry that it emerged that the individual who investigated Janet Skinner’s alleged shortfalls did not believe that Janet Skinner had stolen anything. Miss Skinner was nonetheless charged by the Post Office with and prosecuted for theft. One is left with anxiety and misgivings about the propriety of any investigation undertaken by the Post Office.

I do not have answers to these substantial questions, but they are, I believe, both important and seriously troubling because they suggest – indeed disclose – a fresh injustice. Either something is to be done, or nothing is to be done.
I should add that I am given to understand that the extreme pressure and isolation experienced by the individual to whom I have referred, to settle their claim for what they considered to be a seriously inadequate sum, is an experience shared by others. That is also troubling.

Further, I remain concerned that the arrangements to which I have referred raise an issue about the requisite/desirable level of independence of the Overturned Convictions scheme, bearing in mind that HSF also have ultimate supervision of the HSS (or “Shortfall”) Scheme (about which I also have concerns). I have long expressed misgivings about the level of requisite independence and transparency across all the three Post Office compensation schemes. Those requirements are fundamental, both to fairness and for both individual and public confidence.

The government has recently made some announcements about the number of settlements that have been reached. That matters little if the terms and circumstances of settlements reached are other than fair.

There is of course scope for further litigation arising out of the circumstances to which I have referred. That eventuality would be unfortunate.

I repeat here what I have said previously. There is a requirement for the compensation schemes for Post Office wrongdoing to be administered by a demonstrably independent body. The short-term difficulties will be offset by avoiding what may be anticipated as long term further problems. Any further resulting delay may be mitigated by payment of proper substantial interim payments.”

I know the individual Paul Marshall is referring to in the above letter, and I will write to them to see if they are willing to be identified. I will also find out what the government/Post Office response is to the issues Marshall raises, given they seem to have changed their attitude significantly on the back of Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Keep an eye out for the next blog post which will address Marshall’s view on the failures over interim payments to compensation claimants.

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19 responses to “What’s really going on with the Subpostmaster compensation schemes pt. 1”

  1. When sentencing a PO victim should one not wonder what if anything each judge questioned privately?
    Did it occur to them that there was a great deal more to these cases than had been expounded in court room.
    Did the judges ever confer about similar cases?
    How many judges were responsible for two or more sentences?
    Surely they could have questioned what was going on after all are they not the final defence against miscarriage of justice.
    This needs to be subject of investigation because they too seem entangled in this conspiracy against decent human beings.
    Let’s here their defences Sir Wyn?

    1. How many judges had the wool pulled over their eyes?
      Were they truly blinded to truth so they did not consider the possibility of submasters / mistresses being trapped by a devious and overwhelmingly incompetent and criminal prosecution system – surely these individuals are trained to THINK AND QUESTION validity of evidence and identify weakness and improbability of prosecution evidence together with defective defence propositions.
      Here we have a retired judge seemingly overviewing the judgements of his colleagues – surely he should invite the judges to his inquiry to give account of their handling of the invalid prosecutions – why should they be left out if after all a ‘smart’ judge should have Suspected this appalling miscarriage – yet not ONE did or is this view fallacious?
      Sir Wyn may like to ponder this in the long break – may be he prefers to disregard issues too near to home.
      But to not have the expertise to recognise a large group of decent law abiding citizens caught up in a massive national scandal of corruption is a BLOT on the integrity of the JUDICIARY and must be of extreme concern to GB – how much else is wrong and how many wrongful prosecutions are there for investigation.
      All well for Sir WYN to boast his Welsh pronunciation expertise in a lighter moment-let’s hope he is looking outside the box for ALL the criminal parties.

      1. PCOJ Investigator avatar
        PCOJ Investigator

        Most judges are, put plainly, idiots. A few are also psychopaths, enjoying wrecking others’ lives.

        A recognised intelligence test applied to these fools would reveal their stupidity and lack of logic for all to see.

  2. […] In Part 1 of this short series I quoted at length from a letter written to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry on 9 Jan 2024, by the barrister Paul Marshall. That blog post covered Mr Marshall’s concerns about Subpostmaster claimants in the Bates v Post Office High Court litigation with overturned criminal convictions. […]

  3. re Graham Ward (Day 115, 1 February 2024) avatar
    re Graham Ward (Day 115, 1 February 2024)

    GRAHAM WARD, a most odious and disgusting member of the elite POL persecutors and extortionists (misnamed “investigators”), has been exposed as both

    – Having pressed for more and more prosecutions, and not “watered down” ones


    – Far from encouraging full disclosure to the defence (the innocent SPMs) of anything that could assist them, this filthy unmentionable toerag tried to induce a member of Fujitsu’s technical staff to alter his witness statement to something (even) more prejudicial to the SPM and more helpful to the malicious prosecution.

    And, guess where this despicable ****hole is now working?

    For the Metropolitan Police Service!

    Which, one would assume, is already well versed, and even expert, at lying, falsifying evidence, ignoring, withholding and concealing evidence “unhelpful” them, harassing and fitting up innocent members of the public, destroying evidence, covering up crimes by policemen, perjuring themselves and associated corrupt practices, but being incompetent at everything that a real police force would do.

    So, we wonder, what is the nature of the services this Graham Ward has provided the Met?

    Will an FOI request or more likely series of them reveal a list of all the cases in which he has been involved, which presumably can be initially viewed, on a prima facie basis, as potentially flawed or contaminated?

    Twenty years would be massively inadequate.

  4. Around 1998 I was suspicious of the lack of basic balancing / accounting of the Horizon computerised cash account .
    It seems the now exposed “hidden problems “were “COVERED UP “ by —
    1. PO area and retail management, directors , and accounting staff.
    2. Federation of SubPostmasters with awareness and representing the entire network .
    3.PO internal Auditors .
    4. Statutory Auditors ( Chartered Accountants ).
    5 . Government and Prime Ministers.
    7. All design staff and directors of Horizon Supplier.

  5. Perhaps the new Monarch could issue a general pardon/ exoneration for all the Subpostmasters/ P.O. Employees convicted and/or financially penalized/ damaged during the Horizon period ? The Post Office and ROYAL Mail were once synonymous.

    1. If there was a general and non-judicial pardon, the PO and HMG could then chuck everything into the long grass and just pay up. The SPMs, possible above all, want this responsible named and possibly charged with (at least) perverting the course of justice. Senior legal figures are already on record as saying that given the resources they could give proper legal judgements which, if necessary, could be actionable.
      The general amnesty idea is a smoke screen to make responsibility go away.

  6. Surely in all these dreadful circumstances, the court of appeal would use every muscle and strain every sinew to fast track the overturning of each miscarriage. A fortnight dedicated to this task should surely be sufficient so that each and every sub post master and mistress would at least and at long last experience true justice.
    Working through the night, the weekend for two weeks – is that really too much to ask when the public at large is having extreme doubts over the efficacy of UK justice.
    Judges join the real world and pull your fingers out!

    1. I love your sense of humour and irony.

      Yes, there are a few decent, moral, justice-oriented, knowledgeable and highly intelligent judges.

      Good luck finding them.

      Most, however, are dross, embarassing, deficient in some or all of the above characteristics.

      The best choose to remain counsel, where the money and challenge is. The bench is all-too-often a repository for the rejects.

      1. Is our South Walesian inquiror too long in the tooth?
        Another very long running inquiry which may never get to the end I fear or if it does will conclude with a list of a hundred or so PO guilty parties, many of whom by the end could be dead or too ill for trial.
        Good work for barristers and solicitors though should it go on and on.

  7. Dear Nick,

    Just a brief note to say that I’ve been following your work and the work of computer weekly from the early days. It’s a masterable example of how doggedness and not letting go is so important because of many stages, the battle would appear to be one and yet, the post office and the government continue to try and thwart the outcome . I suspect that this is going to continue and I can only hope that you can outlast them in all the deviousness.

    It must be satisfying to know that whatever happens in the future that in this job at work, you have done something that really has changed the lives of many, and given to so many of us who sit on the sidelines watching big corporations get away with this sort of behaviour again again.

    I really cannot see how some of the people in charge of the post office who continued to obfuscate should get away with this. Really, I cannot understand how jail sentences are not for people who have been so duplicitous with the lives of others.

    Best wishes, Tom

  8. Thank you for the great work you are doing, Mr Wallis.

    If you ever are troubled by some unpleasant b*gger, just let me know.

  9. He is absolutely correct about individual fairness and public confidence. Since the drama was aired the public has absolutely no confidence in anything administered by the Post Office.

    Has the Post Office really changed their attitude since the programme was aired?
    Nick Read was still having problems giving straight and clear answers to the Business and Trade committee about 12 days ago. You could almost see the cogs going round in his head considering what the Post Office lawyers would permit him to say. Personally I think the time has departed for the PO management to try to defend the position of the organisation. Surely he should have been better prepared to answer the sort of question he was going to face without so much circumlocution.

    I now think it’s a very bad look for the PO to continue to hire expensive lawyers to attempt to reduce compensation claims and oppose action for malicious prosecutions.

    1. And who is paying / going to pay the individual defence costs of Venells, Parker and their merry band – surely not the taxpayer – but hang on is it in their ‘watertight’ contracts no less?
      The lawyers already appointed will not come cheap and are preparing no doubt for a long and drawn out fight. Venells and co will hang on their every bit of advice – let’s see what they tell Sir Wyn – ‘we can’t recall’ … it’s well tested elsewhere. ‘Nothing to do with us for we are management – our staff failed us as did the Government’. ‘We are just lovely people – how dare you suggest othewise’

  10. Thank you Paul for your intellectual integrity and goodness of heart. “There are hearts here hard as leather, just a minute let me get it together”. As Dylan rightly sang.

  11. Vernon Stradling avatar
    Vernon Stradling

    All the compensation payments made to date should be annulled and every SPM given the same, generous, award. Plus, of course, the return plus interest of all the money they were strong-armed into handing over to the PO.

  12. Thank you, Nick, for all you have done and continue to do to expose the full extent of the Post Office scandal. Every single one of those affected over all those years, if they wish to do so, and assuming they are still alive, should be given the opportunity to stand at the steps of the Appeal Court with their convictions properly overturned by a judge and their innocence affirmed and with all their costs paid. It would surely take only minutes for each case to be heard where the Post Office had no evidence to offer either than Horizon data or a ‘confession’ forced under threat. A piece of paper dreamt up by Parliament granting a general pardon is just not good enough to overturn the hurt and misery these folk and their families have suffered. This must, of course, be in addition to proper and adequate compensation paid without delay.

    1. Your suggestion is a powerful response to those (lawyers and politicians) who say it would be too difficult and time consuming for the Court of Appeal to overturn a large number of judgments based substantially on evidence from the Horizon system or related lies from the PO. It should only be necessary to read the judgments, without having to trail through the evidence to identify the relevant cases, in most cases, if High Court judges have done their job properly (which I’m sure they did). Too many lawyers are better at identifying problems than solutions. (That may be related to the way they are remunerated.) An expedited and accelerated procedure should be possible for the Court of Appeal to review very quickly ina few days the large number of convictions based on faulty or mendacious evidence from the PO, and could avoid the need for a dodgy piece of legislation and a constitutional compromise.

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