Former subpostmasters who were wrongfully convicted and punished for crimes have not yet received full compensation over a year after their convictions were overturned.
A lawyer negotiating the compensation figures with the Post Office said the two sides are “poles apart”, while the Post Office said it is “urging the government” to help it come to an agreement as soon as possible
On April 23 2021, 39 subpostmasters had their convictions for financial crimes overturned at the Court of Appeal in a landmark case.
A total of 73 former subpostmasters and Post Office branch staff have had convictions overturned, the first of which were at Southwark Crown Court in December 2020.
Over a period of nearly two decades, thousands of subpostmasters were wrongly blamed and punished for accounting shortfalls at their branches, which were later proved to have been caused by computer errors. They lost their businesses, homes, many were prosecuted and sent to prison, and there are suicides linked to the scandal. In 2009, Computer Weekly told the stories of seven subpostmasters affected by the problems (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).
But a year on from the legal landmark at the Court of Appeal, the successful appellants have not received full compensation.
One of the successful appellants, who has used their interim payments to pay debts and make essential home repairs, said: “I may no longer be a criminal, but I’m still very much a victim.”
Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors, who is leading negotiations with the Post Office on behalf of a large group of these victims, said the two sides are “poles apart on agreeing damages”.
Hudgell is focused on a number of lead cases to establish the value of compensation cases, but he said “matters are not progressing quickly enough”.
“It is a year since the first convictions were quashed at the Court of Appeal, and even longer for the few whose cases were the first heard in December 2020, so now is an appropriate time to take stock of how compensation claims are panning out for the exonerated subpostmasters,” said Hudgell.
“We have lead cases going through the system. We are narrowing issues, but not quickly enough. We need a further round of interim payments to settle agreed heads of loss. Otherwise, we run the risk of clients feeling forced to settle under value, just to see some sort of settlement sooner rather than later.”
A Post Office spokesperson said: “We have provided swift financial relief with interim payments of up to £100,000 to the majority of the 73 people whose convictions have been overturned. We want to provide full, fair and final settlements, and are urging the government, who are the funders of the compensation, to help us reach agreement with the legal representatives of the postmasters and therefore be able to make payments as soon as possible.”
All but three victims that have criminal convictions overturned were given interim payments of up to £100,000, but with huge debts resulting from the scandal’s impact on them this money is largely gone, according to Hudgell.
“They were not [given much], [the Post Office was] handing back money wrongly taken from [the subpostmasters] in the first place. This money has mostly gone on squaring off debts built up as a result of what they went through, and life’s essentials. Our clients want closure, but we are not yet there, and time is not on some peoples’ side,” he said.
He is calling for compensation cases to be brought to a successful conclusion by the end of 2022.
“It needs more than ministers’ sound bites to bring this about – it needs dedicated time and resources to turn words into deeds, and for proper and meaningful offers to be put forward. For some poor subpostmasters, time has beaten them – they have died or lost capacity. For others, the clock is ticking quickly too,” he added.