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Post Office scandal compensation lawyers 'unhappy about working long hours’

Campaigner Alan Bates told MPs one victim was 91 years old, and asked: ‘How many years has she got to wait?’

BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE Alan Bates, founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, giving evidence by video link to the Business and Trade Committee at the Houses of Parliament, London, on what more can be done to deliver compensation for victims of what has been labelled one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British history. Picture date: Tuesday January 16, 2024.
Alan Bates, founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, giving evidence by video link. (Post Office Horizon Inquiry)

A former sub-postmaster at the heart of the Post Office Horizon Scandal has claimed lawyers working for the government have complained about working overtime, evenings and on weekends.

Alan Bates, one of the leading campaigners for the hundreds of postal staff wrongly prosecuted due to faults in the service's IT system, suggested that lawyers were delaying the workers' fight for justice.

Speaking to MPs about the scandal on Tuesday, Bates said: “I’m hearing a lot of stories about government lawyers, or the firms that the government are using for lawyers, are not happy about working extra hours or working weekends, or working evenings.

“There obviously isn’t enough of a resource being put in at that end to actually deal with these cases, and that’s what’s really frustrating. I know the lawyers that I’m using, who are dealing with a lot of cases, have a huge team working on them, and they’re piling the cases through, but they’re just not moving. They hit a dead end once they go into the department.”

For many the delays may prove too late, suggested Bates, who said he'd spoken to a 91-year-old victim who is still waiting for justice. "How many years has she got to wait for financial redress? Has she got to wait till she gets a telegram from the King?" he told the committee.

Jo Hamilton, former sub-postmistress, giving evidence to the Business and Trade Committee at the Houses of Parliament, London, on what more can be done to deliver compensation for victims of what has been labelled one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British history. Picture date: Tuesday January 16, 2024.
Jo Hamilton said she felt like she was being treated like a criminal again when asked to produce excessive levels of evidence. (Post Office Horizon Inquiry)

Bates and other campaigners victimised by the Horizon IT system, designed by Fujitsu, also pointed to a culture of red tape and bureaucracy within the Post Office over delays in getting sub-postmasters their compensation. He added: “I think it was 53 days before they asked three very simple questions. It’s madness, the whole thing is madness. And there’s no transparency behind it, which is even more frustrating. We do not know what’s happening to these cases once they disappear in there.”

Wrongfully convicted former sub-postmistress Jo Hamilton said it was “almost like you’re being retried … it just goes on and on and on”.

Here are some of the other key moments from today:

Fujitsu admits for first time it should compensate victims

The boss of Fujitsu has said there is a “moral obligation” for the company to contribute to the compensation. Fujitsu Europe director Paul Patterson told MPs: “We were involved from the very start. We did have bugs and errors in the system. And we did help the Post Office in their prosecutions of subpostmasters. For that we are truly sorry."

It is the first time the Japanese firm has offered to compensate victims, with Patterson saying the company had a “moral obligation for the company to contribute”. Read more from the Guardian here

Statement defending Horizon system ‘concerning’

A Fujitsu employee has said a draft witness statement template which defended Horizon software is concerning because “obviously bugs were in the system”.

Shortly after joining the company in July 2010 Rajbinder Sangha, a former member of Fujitsu’s fraud and litigation support office, was sent the draft statement, potentially used to assist Post Office prosecutions, which said the Horizon system was operating properly “at all material times”. Read more from the Press Association here

Only three victims have full compensation

Solicitor Neil Hudgell told MPs only three of his former sub-postmaster clients who had been criminally convicted had received full compensation. He said: “Within the convicted cohort of clients that we have, of the 73, three have been fully paid out.”

He told the Business and Trade Committee: “I’m not sure that enough resources are thrown at it in terms of the right results into the right areas. For example, routinely with the overturned conviction cases it’s taking three to four months to get a response to routine correspondence.” Read more from The Independent here

Fujitsu has admitted it has an obligation to compensate victims. (PA)
Fujitsu has admitted it has an obligation to compensate victims. (PA)

Post Office 'knew about remote access'

Patterson also admitted there was remote access to the Horizon system, despite the Post Office’s repeated denials.

However, he said he did not recognise the characterisation of a “covert unit” at Fujitsu gaining access to subpostmasters’ computers without their knowledge. “The support and the interventions remotely from Fujitsu has been documented and it is clear the Post Office was certainly aware of that remote access, and that was clear for some period of time.”

Nick Read, chief executive of the Post Office, was asked whether he was aware but denied it. He said: “I’ve only been in the organisation since 2019, so it’s difficult for me to comment.”

'Money from victims may have gone into executive pay'

Nick Read, chief executive of the Post Office, was questioned on Tuesday. (PA)
Nick Read, chief executive of the Post Office, was questioned on Tuesday. (PA)

Money wrongfully claimed from victims of the Horizon scandal may have been used to pay for Post Office executive's hefty compensation packages, Read told MPs.

He said the company has still "not got to the bottom of" what happened to the cash paid by sub-postmasters in a bid to cover the false differences created by the faulty Horizon software.

Read said auditors have tried to get to the bottom of it "two or three times" but failed because of various issues including low-quality data and record keeping.

But he admitted it is a possibility the money taken from branch managers could have been part of "hefty numeration packages for executives". Read more from Sky News here