Post Office scandal explained: What the Horizon saga is all about

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New legislation will clear and compensate sub-postmasters who were the victims of what has been called the UK’s most widespread miscarriage of justice.

Hundreds were wrongly prosecuted after faulty software said money was missing from Post Office branch accounts.

The next phase of a public inquiry into what went wrong begins on Tuesday.

What is the Post Office Horizon scandal?

More than 900 sub-postmasters were prosecuted for stealing because of incorrect information from a computer system called Horizon.

The Post Office itself took many cases to court, prosecuting 700 people between 1999 and 2015.

Another 283 cases were brought by other bodies, including the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Many went to prison for false accounting and theft. Many were financially ruined.

What is the Post Office Horizon public inquiry?

It resumes on Tuesday 9 April and is due to last several weeks, with campaigner Alan Bates and former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells among those due to give evidence during this phase.

Politicians who had responsibility for overseeing the Post Office will also appear.

More on the Post Office scandal

What is Fujitsu’s Horizon system?

It was introduced by the Post Office in 1999.

Sub-postmasters quickly complained about bugs in the system after it falsely reported shortfalls – often for many thousands of pounds.

What was the effect on Post Office staff?

Many former sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses say the scandal ruined their lives.

Some used their own money to cover non-existent shortfalls because their contracts said they were responsible for unexplained losses. Many faced bankruptcy or lost their livelihoods.

Marriages broke down, and some families believe the stress led to serious health conditions, addiction and even premature death.

Video caption,

Victims of the Post Office scandal tell their own stories of how they were accused of criminality.

What is the government doing for the victims?

Image caption,

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told MPs “We will make sure that the truth comes to light.”

The law, which applies to convictions in England and Wales, is expected to clear most victims by the end of July.

Convictions will be automatically quashed if they were:

  • prosecuted by the Post Office or CPS
  • for offences carried out in connection with Post Office business between 1996 and 2018
  • for relevant offences such as theft, fraud and false accounting
  • against sub-postmasters, their employees, officers, family members or direct employees of the Post Office working in a Post Office that used the Horizon system software

Affected sub-postmasters will receive an interim payment, or can instead accept a fixed and final offer of £600,000.

Downing Street previously said it would work with Scotland and Northern Ireland to ensure people wrongly accused in those nations would also be cleared.

What other Horizon compensation schemes are in place?

Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake previously said the government has budgeted £1bn for compensation.

More than 4,000 people were told they are eligible, under three schemes:

  • The Group Litigation Order (GLO) Scheme is for the 555 former postmasters (excluding those who had criminal convictions) who won their group lawsuit, but received relatively small payouts after legal costs. They will now be offered £75,000, but many are expected to push for more
  • The Overturned Convictions Scheme offers those eligible a fast-tracked £600,000 settlement, or the chance to negotiate a higher payment. All are entitled to an “interim” payment of £163,000
  • The Horizon Shortfall Scheme is for sub-postmasters who were not convicted, or part of the GLO court action, but who believe they experienced shortfalls because of Horizon. This group will be offered a fixed payment of £75,000

Prof Chris Hodges, chair of the the independent Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, told the BBC that some individual compensation claims were “well over £1m”.

Who has been criticised for the Horizon scandal?

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