Taxpayer will foot the bill for Post Office IT fiasco as payouts over the scandal are predicted to run into ‘hundreds of millions’ of pounds
- Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of innocent postmasters were prosecuted
- Accused of taking money that was due to Horizon computer terminal glitches
- In December a number of postmasters finally had their convictions overturned
- Taxpayer is set to foot claims bill that ‘could run into hundreds of millions’
The Post Office faces a bill of ‘hundreds of millions of pounds’ after it was deluged with claims from 2,400 sub-postmasters in the wake of the Horizon IT scandal.
Ministers yesterday revealed the taxpayer will bail out the Government-owned company as the cost is ‘beyond what the Post Office can afford’.
Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of postmasters were sacked or prosecuted after money appeared to go missing from their branch accounts.
Post Office bosses were told glitches in the Horizon computer terminals in branches may be to blame but pursued prosecutions anyway. One postmaster, Martin Griffiths, 59, took his own life after he was falsely suspected of taking £60,000.
Ministers yesterday revealed the taxpayer will bail out the Government-owned company as the expected cost of postmaster claims is ‘beyond what the Post Office can afford’
The Post Office has already paid a £58million settlement to 557 postmasters following an acrimonious High Court battle, but now faces a further 2,400 claims under a new compensation scheme.
Dozens more will head to court to claim once their convictions have been overturned, with the biggest payouts likely to exceed £100,000. A lawyer involved in the case said the bill could run ‘into the hundreds of millions of pounds’.
Small business minister Paul Scully said: ‘The Government will provide sufficient financial support to the Post Office to ensure that the [compensation] scheme can proceed.’
He added that the number of applicants was ‘higher than the Post Office had anticipated’ and ‘the cost of the scheme is beyond what the business can afford’.
It came as 41 postmasters prepared to return to the Court of Appeal to have their convictions overturned. Six have already seen their convictions quashed in the Crown Court.
The Prime Minister has launched an independent inquiry and the police are investigating two Post Office IT experts, which could result in charges of perjury.
The Post Office has already paid a £58million settlement to 557 postmasters following an acrimonious High Court (pictured) battle, but now faces a further 2,400 claims under a new compensation scheme
Last year a judge said the Post Office’s computer experts knew about problems in its IT system in 1999 – 15 years before the company stopped prosecuting postmasters.
But despite the gravity of the case, not a single Post Office boss, civil servant or minister has been sacked.
Paula Vennells, 62, who ran the company between 2012 and 2019, is accused of covering up the fiasco and dragging hundreds of postmasters into the costly court battle.
She has been forced to resign from a series of prestigious roles but has held on to her CBE for ‘services to the Post Office and charity’.
Sandip Patel QC, who represents some postmasters, said: ‘I would not be surprised to see potential claims in excess of £100,000, and in some instances it could be very much higher than that.’
The Post Office said: ‘Our priority is to fairly resolve the applications… as soon as possible.’
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