Post Office fraud scandal; 10 unanswered questions – Tom Richmond

JUST whose side is the Government on – the Post Office or the hundreds of subpostmasters wrongly prosecuted, and criminalised, after the introduction of a flawed IT system?

Post Office bosses celebrate their landmark legal win last week when they overturned a serious miscarriage of justice, but how will the Government respond?

It should be open to doubt following the biggest miscarriage of justice in legal history due to the number of individuals involved.

Yet I’m not so sure after Paul Scully, the Small Buisness Minister, answered questions in Parliament about an unforgivable scandal condemned as “appalling” by Boris Johnson.

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A judge-led public inquiry demanded by Tory and Labour MPs alike, and which would have greater jurisdiction than the Government-led review being led by Sir Wyn Williams? It will take too long, ventured the Minister.

Boris Johnson has described the Post Office scandal as "appalling".

The co-operation of senior Post Office chiefs like disgraced former chief executive Paula Vennells CBE? She has committed, he maintains, to “participate fully”. Time will tell and the definition of “fully” is unexplained.

The stripping of the CBE given to Vennells? “There is an independent forfeiture committee,” he said. He did not say that it is overseen by the Cabinet Office where she was a non-executive director until March last year.

The absence of an apology from the Government? Though Scully confirmed that the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is the Post Office’s biggest shareholder, the word ‘sorry’ was too much for him to say.

The failure to set up an independent compensation panel to assess the claims of victims? He simply referred to the Post Office’s “historic shortfall scheme” (this effectively allows the Post Office to decide its own sanctions).

Post Office bosses celebrate their landmark legal win last week when they overturned a serious miscarriage of justice, but how will the Government respond?

The timing of any “fair, reasonable and consistent compensation” scheme demanded by Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake. This, said Scully, “will be outlined over the next few weeks and months”. Or years?

The need for the Post Office to call off outstanding cases? “We will work to ensure that the Post Office does not defend anything that is indefensible,” the Minister replied unconvincingly.

The belief that the Government should be more proactive over compensation? “I want first to understand and make sure that we can learn the lessons and find out exactly what happened and when.” Isn’t this already clear enough?

The small matter of whether the Government endorsed the legal action against innocent postmasters? This was for Sir Wyn’s inquiry, said Scully in another evasive answer.

Post Office bosses celebrate their landmark legal win last week when they overturned a serious miscarriage of justice, but how will the Government respond?

And the claim by Labour MP Kevan Jones, a longstanding campaigner, that £100m of taxpayers’ money was used to fund these bogus prosecutions? Again the Minister ignored this.

Ten questions that Paul Scully should have foreseen and proof positive that the Government’s own response is “appalling” – the very word that Boris Johnson used to describe the scandal.

AFTER more than a year of chaos in the country’s classrooms, Schools Minister Nick Gibb was asked a very simple question this week – what are the plans for exams in the 2021-22 academic year?

Even though this is just four months away, he gave a 149-word non-answer which ended with this assertion: “We will monitor the position regarding 2022 and we will make a statement then.”

Yet, while Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle felt moved to rebuke Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s deputy for such a long-winded answer, the greater concern is the absence of any clear plan to get learning, and exams, back on track from this September. Clearly the DfE is intent on achieving yet another Grade A – in making it up as you go along.

IT would be remiss not to express incredulity that Yorkshire’s very own Baroness Betty Boothroyd is being investigated by Parliament’s ethics watchdog for not completing a mandatory course – on sexual harassment.

She’s 91. She has longstanding ailments that forced her to ‘shield’ in the country during the pandemic. And, as she says, she does not do Zoom – or remote meetings.

The first female Speaker of the House of Commons is one of the greatest ever Parliamentarians. It’s not ‘our Betty’ who is out of order – she’s said she is happy to complete the training when practical – but a Standards Commissioner who should have more pressing priorities.

Like those peers who exploit an over-generous taxpayer-funded expenses system.

TALKING of the venerable, I suggest the Electoral Commission hire Betty Boothroyd – and others like her – when they prepare the next tranche of postal ballots.

I’ve helped two couples in the last week to try and make sense of the convoluted instructions for next week’s West Yorkshire mayoral election and the Leeds City Council poll on the same day.

These are all people who want to do their civic duty – and not have to make an unnecessary trip to the polling station.

I sympathised with them. The whole system appears designed by returning officers for the benefit of returning officers and not voters who have every right to expect a simpler system.

FINALLY a first – Crossrail on time. Alas, it’s not the very late cross-London railway but a racehorse of that name getting up on the line to win at Chepstow.

Named after his sire Rail Link and dam Get Me Home, Malcolm Denmark’s horse looks a far better bet than Crossrail finishing any time soon.

Or Northernpowerhouse, trained in Yorkshire by Bryan Smart, whose not been since seen finishing seventh of 11 last October – this runner clearly takes after Government policy in this field.

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