Post Office would stand by prosecution of more than 350 sub-postmasters, boss told minister in letter

The boss of the Post Office wrote a letter to ministers saying he would stand by the prosecution of greater than 350 of the sub-postmasters convicted within the Horizon scandal.

Chief govt Nick Read despatched the letter to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk final month, informing him that the Post Office could be “bound to oppose” appeals towards at the very least 369 prosecutions.

The doc was dated 9 January – the day earlier than the federal government introduced plans for a brand new legislation to exonerate and compensate sub-postmasters who had been wrongly convicted within the Horizon scandal.

Mr Read’s letter was printed by the Post Office on Thursday, as the federal government confirmed it was urgent forward with the laws to robotically quash convictions by July.

In response, the federal government mentioned it could introduce “safeguards” to keep away from “anyone who was rightly convicted” of making an attempt to “take advantage” of the compensation scheme.

“Innocent post-masters have suffered an intolerable and unprecedented miscarriage of justice at the hands of the Post Office, which is why we are introducing legislation to swiftly exonerate all those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal,” a authorities spokesperson mentioned.

In the letter, Mr Read wrote that the Post Office had performed an exterior authorized evaluate into prosecutions linked to the Horizon IT system between 1999 and 2015.

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Nick Read, chief govt of the Post Office. Pic: PA

The interval noticed a whole bunch of sub-postmasters prosecuted due to discrepancies within the IT system, in what has been known as the largest miscarriage of justice in UK historical past.

Mr Read wrote that the evaluate discovered that the Post Office was “bound” to oppose appeals towards 369 of the roughly 700 prosecutions made within the interval of the Horizon scandal as a result of the proof relied on in these circumstances was unrelated to the defective system.

He wrote {that a} additional 11 circumstances have been underneath evaluate, whereas there was inadequate proof to take a choice both manner in 132 circumstances.

“This clearly raises acute political, judicial, and communications challenges against the very significant public and Parliamentary pressure for some form of acceleration or by-passing of the normal appeals process,” he wrote.

Attached to Mr Read’s letter was a be aware by Nick Vamos, the top of enterprise crime at Peters & Peters, the solicitors for the Post Office.

In the be aware, Mr Vamos wrote that it was “highly likely that the vast majority of people who have not yet appealed were, in fact, guilty as charged and were safely convicted”.

The publication of the letters comes after allegations from the previous chairman of the Post Office, Henry Staunton, who claimed there was “no real movement” on payouts to sub-postmasters till after the airing of ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office earlier this 12 months.

British Justice Secretary Alex Chalk leaves Number 10 Downing Street after a Cabinet meeting in London, Britain, December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Hollie Adams
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Justice Secretary Alex Chalk. Pic: Reuters

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The declare was denied by the federal government and sparked a high-profile row between Mr Staunton and Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch.

While making the allegations, Mr Staunton revealed the existence of Mr Read’s letter.

The Post Office printed the letter and the be aware on Thursday with a remark which mentioned they have been despatched to “explain the work that the Post Office had requested its legal counsel, Peters & Peters, undertake to proactively identify, on the papers available, any convictions that could be unsafe”.

“This was primarily to offer the government any support that might assist them as they consider relevant issues in advance of passing legislation, without any value judgement on what the correct course of action might be,” it mentioned in a press release, alongside publishing the letters.

The Post Office additionally mentioned the be aware supplied by Peters & Peters was “not solicited” by them and was despatched to “express the personal views of its author”.

“(The) Post Office was in no way seeking to persuade the government against mass exoneration,” it mentioned.

“We are fully supportive of any steps taken by government to speed up the exoneration of those with wrongful convictions and to provide redress to victims, with the information having been provided to inform that consideration.”

Henry Staunton
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Henry Staunton

On Thursday, the federal government introduced it aimed to get the exonerations completed “as soon as possible before the summer recess” on 23 July.

Writing to the House of Commons, Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake mentioned: “As noted in my statement on 10 January, the legislation is likely to exonerate a number of people who were, in fact, guilty of a crime.

“The authorities accepts that this can be a worth value paying with the intention to make sure that many harmless individuals are exonerated.”

In an attempt to ensure people are truthful in signing up for compensation linked to convictions being overturned, they will have to sign a disclaimer confirming their innocence.

“Any particular person discovered to have signed such a press release falsely with the intention to achieve compensation could also be responsible of fraud,” Mr Hollinrake added.

An unbiased public statutory inquiry is ongoing to determine a transparent account of the implementation and failings of the Horizon IT system on the Post Office over its lifetime.