Government offers compensation to those wrongly convicted in Horizon scandal
Postmasters and mistresses who had wrongful convictions for theft and false accounting overturned following the Horizon IT scandal, have been offered £600,000 each in compensation.
The government is offering those affected the compensation, whose convictions relied on the IT system, in return for them settling their claims.
However, some have said the money would not repay or replace what they have been through and lost.
Described as the most ‘widespread miscarriage of justice in British legal history’, the scandal saw hundreds of people wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting.
Between 2000 and 2014, a flaw in the newly-installed Horizon computer system made it look like money was missing from Post Offices. It led to suspensions, termination of contracts, wrongful prosecutions and even jail terms for those wrongly accused.
Nineteen Post Office workers in Northern Ireland were convicted, but it is believed there were more victims of the scandal who have not come forward.
Deirdre Connolly, from Strabane, took over a Post Office in Killeter in 2006. In June 2010, a Post Office auditor arrived at the shop to tell her she was facing a discrepancy of around £17,000.
During an interview with a fraud investigator, she was asked if she had taken the money for paramilitaries. At the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry last year, Mrs Connolly said the question made her fear for the safety of her family.
Fiona Elliott bought the village shop, Post Office, attached buy-to-let house and adjoining car park in Clady in 2005. She told the inquiry that after the IT system was installed discrepancies quickly started appearing.
After questioning and pressure from the Post Office to repay the missing money, she was told she wouldn’t be facing a criminal offence but didn’t return to the business as she “didn’t have the heart to go back”.
They were just two of several postmasters who attended and gave evidence to the inquiry last year.
The UK Government has now announced that every postmaster who was wrongfully convicted and has had their conviction overturned as it was reliant on Horizon evidence, will be offered an optional sum of up to £600,000 in compensation.
It acknowledged however, that some would not want to accept this and stressed that “all reasonable legal fees will continue to be covered” adding that any postmaster who does not wish to accept the compensation “can of course continue with the existing process”.
Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “This is about righting a wrong and providing some form of relief to those wrongfully caught up in this scandal.
“Too many postmasters have suffered and for too long, which is why the government remains committed to seeing this through to the end until it is resolved and ensuring this cannot ever happen again.”