You are currently viewing The Post Office Horizon Scandal

The Post Office Horizon Scandal

Between 1999 and 2015, the Post Office operators of sub-post offices across the UK were convicted for alleged theft, fraud and false accounting based on information from its Horizon IT system installed in the late 1990s. A faulty computer system was eventually found behind the company’s financial discrepancies. Still, the Post Office denied this was the case.

 The Post Office Horizon IT scandal is one of the most widespread miscarriages of justice in UK history. The cases span more than 20 years, and the scandal remains unresolved. The scandal is in the spotlight following the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office.

Who was affected?

Sub postmasters have a contract with the Post Office to run branches, but they are not employees of the Post Office. They usually have a retail business connected to the Post Office, the idea being that the retail operation will gain more customers through the Post Office drawing people in.

For 15 years after the roll-out of Horizon, the Post Office – which has private investigation and prosecution powers without police involvement – wrongly accused about 3,500 branch owner-operators of taking money from their businesses, with more than 700 prosecuted. Consequently, hundreds of sub-post office operators ended up with criminal records and punishments ranging from having to do community service and wear electronic tags to being jailed. Many were left struggling financially or even bankrupt following convictions. Victims and their families were severely hit by stress and, in many cases, illness, with the scandal linked to at least four suicides.

Since 2019, many of the prosecutions have been overturned. The sub-postmasters won in a group action lawsuit brought against the Post Office. A total of 24m has been paid out with overturned convictions. However, the Post Office has been criticized for delaying payments. Dozens of victims have died before they could receive any compensation. Last September, ministers promised that every branch owner-operator whose wrongful conviction had been overturned would receive 600,000 in compensation from the government. However, last month, it emerged that the Post Office had almost halved the amount set aside for payouts as fewer owner-operators than expected had won or brought appeals.

The Metropolitan Police is investigating the Post Office over potential fraud offences arising from the prosecutions. The former Post Office chief executive officer of Post Office Limited from 2012 to 2019, Ms Paula Vennel, said she would hand back her CBE after more than 1,047,000 signed a petition demanding its removal.

The government announced an “upfront payment” of £75,000, available to hundreds of postmasters. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says the government will introduce a new law to “swiftly exonerate and compensate victims” of the Post Office scandal. However, it is unclear in what form or timetable the new bill will be presented.