Postmasters who have had their Horizon IT scandal-related convictions overturned are being offered interim compensation payments of up to £100,000 each, the government has announced.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) pledged none of the 57 individuals who qualified to date would be “left out of pocket” as the government-owned Post Office worked towards full settlements.
Hundreds more are working to get their own convictions quashed in a case related to a faulty IT system, known as Horizon, which saw sub-postmasters accused of theft and fraud .
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It incorrectly showed cash shortfalls, which resulted in many of the 550 postmasters involved being sacked, forced to hand over personal savings to make up for losses or even put in prison.
BEIS said: “The Post Office is contacting postmasters and will aim to make an offer for an interim payment within 28 days of receiving an application from those whose overturned convictions relied on Horizon evidence.
“If and when further such convictions are quashed, those postmasters will also be eligible for the payments.”
Postal affairs minister Paul Scully added: “The suffering and distress these postmasters and their families have gone through cannot be overstated.
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“While nothing will make up for the years of pain they faced after this appalling injustice, I hope this initial step provides a measure of comfort.
“The Post Office has started to turn a corner in terms of dealing with its past mistakes – and this government will support them in doing so wherever possible.”
It has been estimated that the taxpayer faces a total bill exceeding £300m.
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Jo Hamilton, one of the former postmasters affected, said news of the compensation was “a long over due token payment…(that) just gives us a bit of breathing space”, when contacted by Sky News.
Labour was similarly sceptical.
Shadow business minister Chi Onwurah said of the news: “This is long overdue, and a victory for the sub-postmasters who have been fighting tooth and nail to secure justice for those affected in this horrendous scandal.”
But she added: “We will look closely at the compensation government is proposing, because it remains baffling that the issue of compensation has been excluded from the Horizon Scandal Inquiry’s terms of reference. Labour will continue to press Ministers to expand the Inquiry’s remit.
“The government must uncover the truth about how this terrible miscarriage of justice can ever have happened – and hold those involved accountable.”
The Post Office boss Nick Read responded: “I welcome the government’s support to enable these interim payments that begin to provide some redress to people who were badly failed.
“Whilst we cannot change the past, this is an important step towards meaningful compensation for victims and we will offer payments as soon as possible.”
The latest convictions to be formally quashed, involving 12 former sub-postmasters , took place this week at the Court of Appeal.
One of them, Sami Sabet, ran two Post Office branches in Brighton and Shoreham-by-Sea.
He ended up with £100,000 of debt trying to pay the money back despite having repeatedly tried to tell the Post Office that he was not to blame and that it was the fault of Horizon.
He told Sky News: “You couldn’t imagine the anguish I have suffered. There’s not a single minute of a single day that I didn’t go over this.”
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