EMMA LEWELL-BUCK: Justice for wronged Post Office workers should not have taken this long
Late last year the High Court vindicated hundreds of former Post Office workers who had been accused, some prosecuted, even imprisoned, many made bankrupt and now having criminal records. Many have suffered significant reputational damage, leaving them unable to seek alternative employment.
All of this happened as a result of cash shortfalls which were the fault of the ‘Horizon’ IT system rolled out by the Post Office between 2000-2002.
The system was beset by bugs, errors and defects which led to discrepancies in subpostmasters’ branch financial accounts. This resulted in serious allegations of false accounting, fraud and theft.
Despite individual subpostmasters repeatedly highlighting these flaws and the injustices they were suffering as the Post Office terminated their contracts, the problem remained. In 2009 an
action group was formed. The action group became ‘The Justice for Subpostmaster Alliance’ (JFSA). The group soon gathered support from Members of Parliament and secured legal representation.
In 2017, the High Court granted a Group Litigation Order and over five hundred ex and serving subpostmasters were added to the case.
On 11th December 2019 Mr Justice Fraser approved a £57.75m settlement – between the Post Office and more than 550 claimants. However, once the legal costs are paid only £10
million will remain to divide between the claimants. Each claim is also varied so some will receive more than others but the amount available will fall short of the required overall total. The
Post Office, in agreeing to the settlement, has avoided tens of millions of pounds in further litigation, yet the subpostamsters are left with significantly limited funds to recompense for the
years of stress, reputational damage and financial ruin they have suffered.
The Government should pay for the costs associated with this legal battle. They own the Post Office and it was their inaction early on that led to the need for litigation.
Justice for these people should not have taken this long. These subpostmasters have had their lives turned upside-down and have lived under a cloud of doubt for far too long. Whilst their
vindication is welcome, the financial settlement does not come close to the real losses they have incurred.
I have met over the years with subpostmasters from South Shields whose lives have been irrevocably damaged. Their tenacity and courage in clearing their names and fighting for
justice is commendable. As their MP, I will now continue to support and fight for them and the other subpostmasters to have rightful recompense from the Government. I will also work
with the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to ensure full Parliamentary scrutiny of what has transpired in this disastrous situation.