• Tuesday, May 24, 2022

HEADLINE STORY

Independent inquiry urged to demand immediate compensation for affected post office workers

FILE PHOTO: Former subpostmasters celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Pramod Thomas

THE independent inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal has been urged to demand immediate compensation for wrongly convicted workers, The Guardian reported.

Addressing a preliminary hearing of the inquiry, Sam Stein QC, acting for 151 post office operators, said any attempt by the Post Office and government to put the issue of compensation on the back burner until the end of the inquiry must be resisted, the report added.

“Frankly, we are concerned that Post Office Ltd and BEIS (department for business, energy and industrial strategy) may use the lifetime of the inquiry to obfuscate and say: ‘We need to wait and see what the inquiry says’ before they act,” Stein was quoted as saying the inquiry chair, the retired high court judge Sir Wyn Williams, by the newspaper.

“The Post Office has had plenty of time to sort this out with the government. They should not be permitted to add to the extent of the Post Office scandal by doing nothing, delaying payment, prolonging suffering and avoiding responsibility. Instead, we suggest that this inquiry should demand urgent and immediate action.”

The inquiry probes how hundreds of post office workers were wrongfully accused of theft, fraud and false accounting as a result of computer errors.

Stein told Monday’s (8) hearing that despite judgments in the court of appeal quashing the convictions of scores of post office workers, victims had still not received adequate compensation.

Campaigners believe that as many as 900 operators may have been prosecuted and convicted between 2000 and 2014 because the defective Horizon IT system falsely suggested there were cash shortfalls.

According to Stein, the claimants’ legal costs should be refunded. £46m of legal costs were incurred by 555 claimants when the Post Office settled a civil claim with them for £57.75m, leaving them with a net amount of less than £22,000 each, he added.

“We say this: Post Office Ltd and BEIS need to recognise that payments of proper and full compensation, [and] the return of legal costs, is required now – that means immediately and not at some unknown point in the future, nor subject to continuing discussions,” he said during the hearing.

Stein added: “When the inquiry started in earnest next year, it would hear accounts of post office workers who died before the names could be cleared, who contemplated or attempted suicide and whose children were bullied and spat at because of the stigma that came with the wrongful accusations.”

Eastern Eye

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