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Inappropriate for Post Office to express view on quashing convictions

‘Inappropriate’ for Post Office to express view on quashing convictions

The Post Office expressing a view on the overturning the fraud convictions of branch managers is “quite inappropriate”, a leading campaigner has said.

Conservative peer Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom also said it was “quite wrong” for the company to have a role in the compensation process for wronged subpostmasters.

The Tory former MP, who had long championed the issue and is a member of the Horizon compensation advisory board, made his comments after the Post Office told the Government it would be bound to oppose appeals in more than half the cases it had prosecuted.

A law aimed at exonerating subpostmasters caught up in the Horizon IT scandal is expected to be brought forward “as soon as possible next month”, according to ministers, with the hope that all convictions will be “overturned by July”.

Giving evidence to MPs on Tuesday, Post Office chief executive officer Nick Read said: “We are making no value judgments here.

“We want people to get through this process and if mass exoneration is the right thing, then let’s make sure we get the right legislation in place to deliver mass exoneration.”

But speaking in Parliament, Lord Arbuthnot said: “The Post Office itself is under investigation by the police.

“Is it not quite inappropriate for the Post Office to express any view at all as to the correctness of overturning convictions and also quite wrong for the Post Office to have any position or play any part in the compensation process itself?”

Responding, business minister Lord Johnson of Lainston said: “The Post Office will not play a role in deciding the correctness of the overturned convictions in this Bill. That is definitively a matter for the Government.”

He pointed out the Post Office had paid out “a very large number” of compensation payments.

The minister added: “It would be extraordinary if the team at the Post Office were not completely aware of the need to ensure that they got this right.

“I would hope for a significant cultural change.”

Referring to the Post Office board, he said there had been “a wholesale change of individuals”.

“I think for the current process the important thing is to get the compensation payments paid but at the same time, in parallel, to review how that process is working,” Lord Johnson added.

Labour frontbencher Lord McNicol of West Kilbride insisted that the Post Office must be taken out of the compensation process completely.

He said: “A recent Post Office board meeting refers to a toxic culture of disbelief persisting at the top of the Post Office, including a continuing view that some postmasters and mistresses were guilty as charged.

“Until the Post Office is taken out of the compensation process altogether, nothing will change. One of the advisory board’s recommendations is to do exactly that.”

Business minister Lord Johnson of Lainston acknowledged that there was “a great deal of demand” for the Government to take over the entire management of the compensation scheme.

He said: “It’s not for me to make these sorts of commitments, but it’s very clear these discussions are going on within Government to give people confidence that we are trying to do the right thing for these people who have suffered so much.”

Hundreds of subpostmasters were wrongly convicted of stealing after bugs and errors in the Horizon accounting system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Some victims were sent to prison or financially ruined, others were shunned by their communities while some took their own lives.

The Post Office forced at least 4,000 branch managers to pay back cash based on the flawed data.

The long-running battle for justice accelerated dramatically after ITV broadcast the drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office.

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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