Police investigation into Post Office scandal stepped up as ITV drama airs

Police investigation into Post Office scandal stepped up as ITV drama airs

The Met Police has revealed it has stepped up its investigation into the Post Office/Fujitsu Horizon IT scandal.

They confirmed they had interviewed two people under caution, as they investigate potential fraud offences.

Police are investigating possible fraud offences arising from the prosecutions in what has been called the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.

The force said the potential offences could be related to “monies recovered from sub-postmasters as a result of prosecutions or civil actions”.

“Our investigation is considering the actions of individuals connected with Fujitsu and the Post Office. We are an interested party to the public inquiry and are monitoring and gathering the evidence it hears,” they added.

Meanwhile, UK Government ministers met with senior judges to discuss ways to speed up the justice process. It has been reported that a recent meeting focused on potential solutions for speeding up the process for sub-postmasters who want their convictions overturned.

The scandal of over 700 people wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting, has captured the attention of the nation following the ITV dramatisation ‘Mr Bates vs the Post Office’.

The four-part mini-series is based on the real-life story of postmaster Alan Bates and the legal battle he led and won, leading to several convictions being overturned. Some 19 Post Office workers in Northern Ireland were convicted.

Deirdre Connolly, from Strabane was accused of stealing thousands of pounds from her Post Office and sought assurance from Mr Bates after the accusation.

Ms Connolly attended the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry hearing in Belfast in 2022, where she described how she was told to plead guilty and forced to repay over £15,000 which she did not owe.

In June 2015, a Post Office auditor arrived at her 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.

She was shaken by the allegations, and she and her husband remortgaged their house, but they were declared bankrupt in 2013 after their debts built up. Ms Connolly developed epilepsy due to the stress and she felt unable to leave home for three years because of the stigma attached to the false allegations.

“I lost everything because the footfall went down because there’s no smoke without fire, the stigma of it all was just awful,” she told BBC News NI’s Talkback programme.

After speaking to Mr Bates, who told her he would look after, Ms Connolly said it was “great to know that there were other people and it wasn’t just me”.

There are two compensation schemes – the Horizon Shortfall Scheme (HSS) and the Overturned Convictions Scheme, while the government is responsible for a third scheme.

To date, £3.1 million has been offered to 72 claimants in Northern Ireland through the HSS scheme.

Following the airing of the ITV drama, Post Office Chief Executive, Nick Read issued an apology to those affected.

“We hope that the ITV drama will raise further awareness and encourage anyone affected who has not yet come forward to seek the redress and compensation they deserve,” he said.

“As chief executive, I have met many of the victims and heard first-hand their personal stories. I reiterate and extend an apology on behalf of Post Office to all those affected.

“It’s imperative that we listen and acknowledge these stories, understanding the profound impact this scandal has had on lives.”