Post office scam: Ex-minister calls for mass appeal against convictions

  • By Chris Mason, Michael Race & Nick Etcher
  • BBC News

Hundreds of deputy postmasters convicted in the Post Office Horizon scandal could file a massive appeal, a former cabinet minister has said.

Questioning ministers about the scandal, Sir David Davies told the BBC there was “no real reason” why there couldn't be a “big case”.

Ministers are set to meet to consider possible ways to clear the names of hundreds of convicted deputy postmasters.

The Prime Minister told the BBC that the government was considering options to help victims.

The scandal saw more than 700 branch managers convicted of false accounting, theft and fraud based on faulty software.

Some deputy postmasters went to jail wrongfully and many were financially ruined. Some have died.

Speaking on the Today programme, Sir David Davies said the play had sparked a response to the scandal. “Tens of thousands of people now care about this — care a lot. They're angry in many cases.”

He added: “All the cases are based on one lie, that no one but postmasters and mistresses have access to their computers. We now know that's not true. You have no real reason or logical reason. A mass case, mass appeal based on that.”

Sir David and Labor MP Kevan Jones hope to have the chance to scrutinize a minister in the House of Commons, which reconvenes for the first time since the Christmas break on Monday.

A petition calling for former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE has received more than a million signatures. Ms Vennells has been contacted for comment on the petition.

Tracey Felstead and Janet Skinner were both deputy postmistresses jailed in connection with the Post Office Horizon scandal. They told BBC Breakfast that Ms Vennells should hand back her CBE.

“To be fair, if she had any dignity, she would give it back,” Ms Skinner said.

image caption,

Janet Skinner (left) and Tracy Felstead (right) were both victims of the scandal.

Ms Felstead said she wanted “someone to be held accountable”.

“We were classified as criminals by the post office,” he said. “Now it's their turn to be investigated and find out who did what, why and when. Someone has to hold everyone accountable.”

Many victims of the scandal are still fighting to overturn their convictions or receive full compensation after being forced to pay thousands of pounds of their own money for failings caused by Horizon accounting software.

It has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history, but to date, fewer than 100 people have had their convictions overturned.

Professor Chris Hodges, chairman of the Horizon Compensation Advisory Group, told the TODAY programme, “A civilized government should overcome these beliefs and provide compensation where people have to do as little as possible”.

Some argued that quashing all sentences could encroach on the independence of the judiciary, but Professor Hodges said that while this was a consideration, he did not think it was important in these circumstances.

“This is not a situation where anyone is complaining that the government is violating anyone's human rights,” he said.

Professor Hodges added that the Justice Department “is not as angry and really uncomfortable with this situation as the rest of us, so I don't think the constitutional issue really arises here”. .

However, former deputy postmistress Ms Felstedt told the BBC that while the process to help ex-deputy postmasters should be speeded up, she warned against a mass release.

“I think we have to be very careful that we're not going to go and change everybody's convictions if you've had a crime and you've commuted their sentence,” he said.

image source, ITV/REX/Shutterstock

image caption,

ITV's drama has put the Post Office scandal back in the spotlight

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the BBC on Sunday that “it is right that we find all the ways we can to make this right for the people who were wronged at the time”.

The meeting between Justice Secretary Alex Sack and Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake was brought forward a week after renewed anger and headlines following the ITV mini-series – Mr Bates vs the Post Office.

On Monday, Mr Sack and Mr Hollinrake will work with government lawyers to explore ways to legally speed up the process.

The Prime Minister said on Sunday that the government was considering options, including removing the post office's role in the appeals process.

There has been concern within the government that the process of overturning convictions and compensating victims of miscarriages of justice has been too slow.

To date, 93 convictions have been overturned, of which only 30 have agreed to “full and final settlements”.

Meanwhile, in 54 cases the conviction was upheld, people were denied permission to appeal or the appellant withdrew from the process, the Post Office said.

The Post Office had the power to decide whether to bring original cases, and its appointed lawyers presented evidence in court. But as appeals continue to be heard, an option is now for the Crown Prosecution Service and its own lawyers to take action.

Currently, a public inquiry into the scandal is underway and the Metropolitan Police is investigating the Post Office for possible fraud offenses arising from the cases.

A Post Office spokeswoman previously said the public inquiry shares “the aims of getting to the truth of past wrongdoing and establishing accountability”.

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