'Get on with it’: Keir Starmer demands victims of Post Office Horizon scandal receive compensation now

5 January 2024, 09:32 | Updated: 5 January 2024, 09:56

Sir Keir Starmer responds to Post Office Horizon scandal

By Kit Heren

Sir Keir Starmer has urged the government to pay compensation to the victims of the Post Office accounting scandal without delay.

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Hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly accused of fraud between 1999 and 2015 because of a Post Office computing error.

Many were convicted and some were sent to prison.

The government said in September last year that every sub-postmaster wrongfully convicted would be offered £600,000 in compensation to settle their claim.

Not all of the money has been paid out, and campaigners have urged the government to fast-track the compensation.

Read more: Postmaster wrongly convicted of stealing £75,000 is now disabled after Horizon Scandal, son says

Read more: A top NHS job and 'resignation from the church': Post Office boss Paula Vennells' life as she faces calls to hand back CBE

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Sir Keir joined in the calls on Friday, telling LBC's Nick Ferrari: "Many of those that did come through had severe mental and health issues as a result, and I know that personally.

"Compensation has been set aside for them. It should have been paid in December.

"The Treasury have put the money aside, so it's not unavailable - but it hasn't all been paid.

"So of course those involved should be held to account, but I say to the government now: "Get on with it. Do at least that bit right."

The government has said that all 2,417 postmasters who claimed compensation through a scheme for people affected by the scandal but not convicted of a crime have had payment offers. A total of £87 million has been paid out as part of this scheme.

Ministers said that £138m had been paid out in total so far, including £27 million as part of a scheme to compensate the original 500 postmasters who took legal action, and £24 million for overturned convictions.

The son of a sub-postmaster who was convicted wrongly of stealing £75,000, and whose conviction has been overturned, told Nick on Thursday that he had not been given any payment yet.

Alan Bates, a former sub-postmaster from Wales who led the legal battle against the Post Office, said those who were wrongly accused needed to be compensated before they died of old age.

Some 60 people have already died before they could be paid.

“Get moving with the compensation," Mr Bates told The Mirror. "Don’t extend the deadline for payments because you can’t extend people’s lives."

He added: "It’s madness. It’s held up in the system and I know the government says it’s the lawyers who are holding it up, but it’s not the claimants’ lawyers, it’s government lawyers. It’s money they are owed.

"Some have been waiting over 20 years and suffering for far too long."

Son of wrongly convicted postmaster: 'My father is now disabled'

Sir Keir said that he knows some of the people caught up in the scandal, including the brother of a "very close friend".

He added: "I know the mental impact it has had on him and others, so I feel this very strongly.

"It is a gross, very wide-ranging miscarriage of justice. Not only was it wrong in the first place, but the Post Office, when it began to be obvious it was wrong, didn't do the right thing, which is to sort it out."

He added that "all of those involved at the time have questions to answer."

Sir Ed Davey, the current Liberal Democrat leader, was postal affairs minister under the coalition government during part of the scandal.

He has said that Post Office bosses misled him during the affair.

Asked if Sir Ed also had questions to answer, Sir Keir said: "I think he has got questions, and I think he is answering them."

The Post Office scandal has been called the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.

Hundreds of Post Office branch managers were given criminal convictions after the faulty accounting software, Horizon, made it look as if money was missing.

Horizon, which was introduced in 1999, was seen as a "better way" for managers to handle their branch accounts.

Sub-postmasters quickly realised unexplainable discrepancies in their records but the Post Office dismissed these concerns.

The Post Office then accused the sub-postmasters of taking the missing finances for themselves and started criminal proceedings.

Between 1999 and 2015, over 700 people were wrongly prosecuted. Some wrongly accused managers were imprisoned, and financially ruined. Some took their own lives.

Alan Bates, a former sub-postmaster from Wales, has led a years-long campaign for justice that has led to many people getting their convictions overturned, and receiving financial compensation.

No one responsible for the wrongful convictions has been prosecuted.