Ministers scramble to speed up the overturning of Post Office convictions
Ministers are drawing up plans to hasten the clearing of the names of hundreds subpostmasters who were wrongfully convicted in the Horizon scandal.
Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake told MPs that ways to overturn the convictions were being investigated, including possible legislation.
Mr Hollinrake hinted at a solution as soon as this week after the Government scrambled to take action after the miscarriage of justice was brought into the spotlight by an ITV drama.
Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells was coming under increasing pressure over her CBE after Rishi Sunak signalled he would support a committee looking into the honour.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said he would “strongly support” the Honours Forfeiture Committee if it decided to look at stripping the gong.
Mr Hollinrake vowed to “leave no stone unturned” amid pressure to quash the convictions and speed up the awarding of compensation to those affected by the Horizon IT system error.
He updated the Commons after holding a “very positive meeting” with Justice Secretary Alex Chalk as they discussed how to help the convicted branch managers clear their names.
With more than 700 subpostmasters having received criminal convictions for allegations such as theft and false accounting, Mr Hollinrake acknowledged the “slow pace” of them being cleared.
“We have devised some options for resolving the outstanding criminal convictions with much more pace,” the minister said.
“While the scale of the problem is immense, the Government is unwavering in its resolve to tackle it, to compensate those affected and to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice.”
Mr Chalk will first speak to senior figures in the judiciary, Mr Hollinrake said, but he expected ministers to announce the proposals “very shortly”.
The Post Office minister said he would be “very disappointed if we went past the end of this week in terms of giving more information”.
He said that they had discussed “at length” the possibility of bringing a Bill to Parliament to quash the convictions.
Mr Hollinrake said that “proper and thoughtful consideration” will also be given on how private prosecutions are undertaken “to make sure a scandal like this can never happen again”.
And he said that “full and final” compensation has already been paid to 64% of those affected, as he vowed that securing justice was his “highest priority”.
A petition for the Forfeiture Committee to consider removing the CBE of Ms Vennells, who ran the Post Office while it routinely denied there was a problem with its Horizon IT system, has surpassed a million signatures.
Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister shares the public’s feeling of outrage on this issue. He would strongly support the Forfeiture Committee if it chose to review the case.”
Mr Hollinrake has said it is “perfectly reasonable” to ask the former Post Office boss to hand back her CBE.
He also suggested that Fujitsu, the firm behind the faulty accounting software that made it look like money was missing from shops, and anyone else shown to be responsible should be “held accountable including making any payments” into the compensation fund.
Tory former home secretary Dame Priti Patel raised Fujitsu still being awarded millions of pounds of Government contracts.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey was on the offensive as he faces fresh scrutiny over his role in the scandal as postal affairs minister between 2010 and 2012.
He told broadcasters the “Post Office was lying on an industrial scale to me and other ministers”.
Sir Keir Starmer has called for prosecution powers to be stripped from the Post Office and previous convictions looked at again.
The Labour leader said: “I think that the prosecution should be taken out of the hands of the Post Office and given to the Crown Prosecution Service.
“And these convictions, the remaining convictions, need to be looked at en masse.”
Reports suggest that 50 new potential victims have approached lawyers since ITV’s Mr Bates Vs The Post Office was broadcast.
The Post Office is wholly owned by the Government and a public inquiry into Horizon is ongoing.
Published: by Radio NewsHub