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Post Office scandal back in spotlight as MPs hear evidence from Fujitsu bosses and wronged sub-postmasters

The Post Office scandal will be back in the spotlight today, when MPs hear evidence from a number of witnesses including campaigner and wronged sub-postmaster Alan Bates.

Mr Bates, whose story inspired the ITV hit drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office, will appear in front of parliament's Business and Trade Committee alongside other figures, including business minister Kevin Hollinrake and representatives from Fujitsu, which developed Horizon, the faulty IT system at the heart of the scandal.

MPs on the committee will quiz the witnesses about the process for delivering fair and timely compensation for the victims of the scandal, which occurred between 1999 and 2015.

What is the scandal about?

The Post Office Horizon IT scandal saw more than 700 sub-postmasters and mistresses convicted after faulty Fujitsu software made it appear as though money was missing from their branches.

Last Wednesday Rishi Sunak confirmed that all victims of the IT scandal will have their convictions quashed under fast-tracked legislation after growing pressure to take more serious action.

Number 10 also confirmed that sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses would be eligible for a £75,000 upfront payment with the new law, but acknowledged that would not be sufficient for everyone.

The move was prompted by the TV drama, Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which chronicled the campaigners' two-decade fight for justice and detailed the poor treatment they received at the hands of their employer.

Mr Sunak said last week that the government had paid almost £150m in compensation to over 2,500 victims and pledged that victims would be "swiftly exonerated and compensated".

Who is appearing before the committee?

Among those who will give evidence to MPs today is Alan Bates, a key member of Justice For Sub-postmasters Alliance whom the ITV drama was named after.

Mr Bates, who was played by the actor Toby Jones in the drama, was one one of six lead claimants in the original court battle with the Post Office. He believes he was dismissed because he flagged up problems with the Horizon system.

Speaking to Sky News ahead of his questioning by MPs, Mr Bates said he had "one concern - and it's to get the compensation right - that's it.

"They should be moving heaven and earth to get it done and get it done fast."

He will appear alongside Jo Hamilton, who was played by Monica Dolan and whose story also featured heavily in the series.

The sub-postmistress in South Warnborough, Hampshire, previously told Sky News of the pressure she faced to plead guilty and how she felt "backed into a corner".

"I felt I had a gun held to my head and had no choice," added Ms Hamilton.

"They said if I pleaded guilty to false accounting and paid the £36,000 shortfall, they would drop the theft charge.

"I was so terrified of going to prison, I couldn't think of anything else. It was terrifying."

Crucially, the committee will also hear from Paul Patterson, the chief executive of Fujitsu's Europe arm - the first time an executive has answered questions on the scandal - and Nick Read the current chief executive of the Post Office.

Other witnesses include Dr Neil Hudgell, executive chairman of Hudgell Solicitors, the firm which represented 74 people who have already had their convictions quashed.

Read more:
Who are the key figures in Post Office scandal?
TV drama writer warned 'nobody would watch' programme
Post Office scandal: Horizon developer Fujitsu handed £6.8bn in public contracts since 2012

Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom, the Tory peer and former MP who has campaigned on behalf of the sub-postmasters for nearly 15 years, will also give evidence.

Postal services minister Kevin Hollinrake - who has argued that figures at the Post Office who are found to be responsible for the scandal should be jailed as the "ultimate deterrent" - will also appear before MPs, as will Carl Cresswell, director of business resilience at the Department for Business and Trade.

What is happening at the Post Office inquiry hearing?

Separately, the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry will continue in London and will hear from Rajbinder Sangha, the release management coordinator of Fujitsu Services and former member of Fujitsu's fraud and litigation support office.

A statutory inquiry opened in 2021 into what has been described as the "worst miscarriage of justice in recent British legal history".

On Thursday at the inquiry, former investigator Stephen Bradshaw, who was involved in the criminal investigation of nine sub-postmasters, denied he and others "behaved like mafia gangsters" in the criminal probe of several sub-postmasters.