The UK Government is at last taking some responsibility for the failings of the Horizon IT system which left the lives of many sub-postmasters in tatters.
The Post Office required all its branches and sub-branches to implement Horizon, a new accounting system, from 1999. Soon afterwards, faults in the system meant it started reporting shortfalls and other financial irregularities that had never happened. The Post Office refused to admit that the system was at fault and thousands of innocent sub-postmasters and mistresses were sacked and prosecuted. Many were sent to prison and others were bankrupted and stigmatised as criminals in what a BBC Panorama documentary said may have been the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history.
In 2019 the Post Office paid out £58 million in an out-of-court settlement with 550 of the victims and said they would be setting up a compensation scheme for others who had not been part of this action. The Government announced last week that they were stepping in to support the compensation scheme after it became clear that Post Office Ltd would be unable to afford to pay the 2,400 outstanding claims.
The Horizon scandal has spanned decades and it has hit countless postmasters and mistresses who have been plunged into hardship and faced financial difficulties and imprisonment. The SNP has long argued that the UK Government must right this grievous wrong and I welcome this announcement that they will step in to ensure all affected postmasters are appropriately compensated.
Post Office Ltd acted shamefully in persecuting innocent people. The UK Government is the sole shareholder of Post Office Ltd and must accept responsibility for this. Nothing can undo the years of distress they have caused, and tragically nothing can bring back those who took their own lives because of the way they were treated. At the very least they deserve full compensation for their losses and I welcome the fact that after years of denial and delay this is finally a possibility.
I look forward to the report of the independent inquiry into the Post Office network to protect vital local services and to prevent a repeat of past mistakes. Post Offices provide a vital service for our local communities and postmasters have been on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic. My thanks go to all local postmasters and I urge the UK Government to do all they can to support the Post Office network.