Subpostmasters should withdraw their support for the Post Office Horizon scandal inquiry until they are paid what they are owed, according to the founder of the campaign group that led their fight for justice.
The 555 members of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) who successfully defeated the Post Office in the High Court, proving that the Post Office Horizon IT system was to blame for unexplained financial losses, were awarded £57.75m damages. But after they paid their legal costs, they were left with just £11m. This did not even cover the sums of money they repaid the Post Office to cover the losses of which they were accused – losses that didn’t actually exist. Members of the group lost businesses, homes, lifetime savings and personal reputations.
Despite the government commissioning a public inquiry, which started this month, the affected subpostmasters have still not received adequate compensation.
In a circular to the JFSA, founder Alan Bates, wrote: “I now write to all of you who have registered as core participants to ask you to withdraw your applications and show solidarity over the failure of the inquiry to be concerned in the slightest of the victims’ greatest priority and most desperate need. Many of the group have already told me they will be doing so, and it is important that we demonstrate through actions, that as a group, we are solid in our demands and stance; after all, we only want what we are rightfully owed.”
The JFSA members’ victory in court paved the way for subpostmasters wrongly convicted of financial crimes to have their convictions overturned. The government is paying these victims for the miscarriage of justice under a programme called the Interim Compensation Scheme, and has promised interim payments of up to £100,000.
The court victory also forced the Post Office to set up a compensation package, the Historic Shortfall Group Scheme, which about 2400 subpostmasters have been accepted into, which aims to pay back people who were affected by the scandal, but were not part of the High Court action. But the 555 subpostmasters that got to the truth about the Post Office scandal in court were excluded from the compensation scheme. The government has repeatedly said the settlement agreed through the court case is full and final.
Bates wrote: “From the first time any inquiry was mentioned, the financial redress the victims group is owed has always been the one key issue the JFSA has wanted addressed at the outset of any inquiry”
The public inquiry has now published its final list of issues which address financial redress for subpostmasters, without specifically referring to the 555 subpostmasters that won in court.
Under the heading Financial and Other Redress, the inquiry list of issues to be covered reads: “To what extent (if at all) has Post Office Limited properly delivered upon the commitments which it made in the mediation settlement to make improvements in its relationships with SPMs [subpostmasters] and to bring finality to all outstanding issues in respect of historic shortfalls via the Historic Shortfall Group Scheme?”
The list continued: “To what extent (if at all) has the creation and implementation of the Historic Shortfall Group Scheme and the Interim Compensation Scheme provided an adequate means for affected SPMs, managers and assistants to obtain financial redress for the wrongs which they have suffered?”
This was not enough to satisfy Bates and other campaigners. Bates wrote: “The final list of issues contains just two paragraphs purporting to deal with financial redress. Neither of them have any relevance at all to the victims group – probably, because in their eyes, we have had full and final settlement and we can be ignored from now on.”