Thursday 30 June 2022

HorizonTrial Update: Business Minister comes to the House with pockets bulging.

Today is a day for, not so much celebration, as breathing a sigh of relief on behalf of the sub-postmasters (SPMs) involved in the Group Litigation trial which has contributed so much to this thread.

Readers will recall that the SPMs won hands-down on the first two stages but when PO Ltd offered them a settlement they had to take it because they could not be sure that their financial backers would put any more money towards stages 3 & 4 - even though progress at that stage suggested that all judgements would go the way of the claimants. There is nothing certain in the legal justice system.

The result was a payment of £57 million which, divided by 555 claimants would have been less than £103,000 each - although it wouldn't have been divided equally. However, the payments to the action funders reduced that £57m to about £11.5m, or less than £21,000 each on average.

Subsequently government and POL all said that was a full and final settlement, and set up a scheme to compensate more fully any SPMs who were not part of the scheme. Considerable publicity about the plight of these people has continued and POL appointed a new CEO. A public enquiry has been set up, the terms of reference for which were expanded to give it full legal status to require anybody and everybody involved to come and give evidence under oath. Also any documentation that was available was required to be provided; despite some prevarication, the enquiry chair was told that this would be done.

The new CEO told the government that POL couldn't afford to pay any compensation, so it would have to come from the government. Slowly, and with more pressure from MPs, the minister responsible, and the Prime Minister, both of who met some of the key SPMs who figure in this sorry business, the cracks in government intransigence appeared, and they agreed that the 555 would get full compensation. But that was last year - the litigation ended nearly three years ago. (corrected from 'two' - how time flies when you take your eye off the ball.)

Today Business Minister Paul Scully finally told the house that interim payments would be made and the sum of £19.5 million had been set aside for this. He stresses that this is only interim payments and more would be forthcoming. To assist in determining just how much each person/family will get, government is engaging Freeths, the lawyers who acted for the claimants in court, to provide data.

This again, is a major breakthrough because they and others had already done much of this work in establishing just how much compensation they wanted if they were successful in the trial: they had to know, so that the financial backers knew the enormity of the sums involved and so were happy to cough up a sum probably in excess of £40m.

This is the full statement from Hansard, the Parliamentay report: {If you don't have time to read it all, skip it and go to the edited video link below}

The House is well aware of the terrible impact felt by the many postmasters affected by the issues with the Post Office’s Horizon IT system that began over 20 years ago. Those distressing consequences have been widely documented in the courts—in the 2019 group litigation order judgments and in the more recent Court of Appeal judgments—as well as in the media. I have met postmasters personally to hear how their lives and the lives of their families have been affected by these events, and every time I am moved by the impact that these events have had on individual postmasters’ lives and their fight for justice over a number of years. I pay tribute to colleagues on both sides of the House for the way they have supported postmasters in their efforts to expose the truth and see justice done.

Today, I will update the House on the latest steps that the Government are taking to ensure that fair compensation is paid to people impacted by the scandal. As Members will know, members of the GLO group performed a great public service by bringing the case in 2019 that exposed the scandal. That is why I was pleased when the Chancellor announced in March this year that further funding is being made available, to ensure that those people receive similar levels of compensation to that available to their non-GLO peers. The Government intend to make an interim payment of compensation to eligible members of the GLO who are not already covered by other compensation support, totalling £19.5 million. Together with the share of the December 2019 settlement, which we understand was distributed to the GLO postmasters, that brings the total level of compensation to around £30 million. Postmasters will be contacted in the coming weeks to submit an application, and we aim to distribute funds within a few weeks of receiving that application. I hope that will go some way towards helping many postmasters who have faced and still are facing hardships.

In parallel, we are continuing to work at pace on delivering the final compensation scheme for the GLO. I confirm that we will be appointing Freeths to access the data and methodology that it developed in relation to the distribution of the 2019 settlement. Freeths represented the GLO claimants, and it has vital knowledge and expertise based on its involvement in the case. That will allow us to work at pace on the design of a scheme with the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, and Freeths, to give those in the GLO similar compensation to their non-GLO peers. As promised in March, we will informally consult with members of the GLO about the proposed scheme’s operation. I am also pleased to announce that members of the GLO group will be able to claim reasonable legal fees as part of participating in the compensation scheme. I hope that will allay any concerns they might have about meeting the costs of seeking legal advice and support when applying to the scheme.

Turning to progress on compensation for overturned criminal convictions, I am pleased to report that interim payments are progressing well. As of 29 June, there have been 75 overturned convictions, with the most recent being overturned in recent weeks. The Post Office has received 74 applications for interim payments, including several new applications recently. Sixty-seven offers have been accepted by and paid out to claimants, totalling nearly £7 million. That marks significant progress, with 10 additional interim payments made to postmasters since I updated the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee on 11 January 2022. I am pleased that those interim payments have helped to deliver an early down payment on the compensation due to affected postmasters, in advance of full and final compensation packages being agreed.

For those postmasters with an overturned conviction who have already submitted quantified claims, we are working with the Post Office to agree, wherever possible, part payments of agreed elements of claims, such as loss of earnings, and we will continue to do so with additional claims when they are submitted. That step should enable us to avoid undue delays, by awarding partial compensation while outstanding matters are resolved.

One area where it has been challenging to agree compensation is non-pecuniary damages, some of which reflect the wider impact on postmasters’ lives that the wrongful convictions have had. That includes compensation for their loss of liberty, or impacts on their mental health. A number of postmasters have agreed to refer this issue to the process of early neutral evaluation, to be conducted by former Supreme Court judge Lord Dyson. It is hoped that that evaluation will facilitate the resolution of those issues. The Government stand ready to support the delivery of the early neutral evaluation process, and are keen to ensure that the outcomes of the process enable swift compensation.

I urge all postmasters with a Horizon-related conviction to continue to come forward to seek to have them overturned. Indeed, postmasters are being contacted individually by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and other relevant bodies, to encourage them to do so.

In addition to progress on compensation for those with overturned criminal convictions, good progress has been made on delivering compensation for those in the historical shortfall scheme. As of 23 June, 65% of eligible claimants have now received an offer, meaning that £29 million has now been offered, and 444 further postmasters have been offered compensation since my last update to the House. I thank the independent panels for their diligent work in progressing those cases.

As I have said previously, I have set the Post Office the ambition to make 100% of HSS offers by the end of the calendar year, and the Government are working closely with the Post Office to achieve that. It is important, however, that in addition to providing compensation, we learn lessons so that something similar can never happen again. That is why the Government set up the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry and put it on a statutory footing, to ensure that it has all the powers it needs to investigate what happened, establish the facts, and make recommendations for the future. We are co-operating fully with the inquiry to ensure that the facts of what happened are established and lessons are learned, and I commend this statement to the House.

After that statement there were a number of questions from members, and a telling point was when Lucy Allan said 

I remain deeply concerned about the role of Fujitsu, UK Government Investments and all those who sent Ministers to this House, even after the Justice Fraser judgment, to say, 'Nothing to see here.'

That was wrong. I know that Sir Wyn Williams is investigating, as the Minister has rightly said, but will my hon. Friend personally commit to ensuring that those individuals are held to account?

Scully replied:

Having set up the statutory inquiry, what I cannot do at this Dispatch Box, at this moment in time, is direct Sir Wyn towards any particular area of findings. That is for him to do and I want him to remain an independent chair. But we absolutely want to make sure that lessons are learned and that people are genuinely held accountable.

Reading it is one thing; to see the emphasis that he put on his personal intention to ensure that some people are going to be dealt with as we would all want them to be, see video here.


He's not so much throwing people under the bus, but driving the bus that is taking them to not only the Public Enquiry, but to subsequent court appearances for perjury, and malicious prosection.  Hold very tight please, next stop...

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