Government set for tough response on Horizon scandal following ITV drama

The Government is set to take a tougher line on the treatment of Post Office workers during the Horizon scandal following the TV drama depicting the miscarage of justice they experienced.

Downing Street yesterday said that the Prime Minister would strongly support a review into revoking the CBE given to Paula Vennells, the former Post Office boss during that period.

The body routinely denied that there was any problem with its Horizon IT system, and more than 700 branch managers were convicted after faulty Fujitsu accounting software made it look like money was missing from their stores.

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Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister shares the public’s feeling of outrage on this issue. He would strongly support the Forfeiture Committee if it chose to review the case.

Yorkshire MP Sir David Davis was among those calling for a substantial response to make things right for convicted Post Office staff.Yorkshire MP Sir David Davis was among those calling for a substantial response to make things right for convicted Post Office staff.
Yorkshire MP Sir David Davis was among those calling for a substantial response to make things right for convicted Post Office staff.

“It is a decision for the committee, rather than the Government.”

A petition addressed to Sir Chris Wormald, chairman of the Forfeiture Committee, calling for Ms Vennells to lose the honour has already attracted more than one million signatures.

Yesterday Kevin Hollinrake, the Post Office minister and North Yorkshire MP, met with Alex Chalk, the Justice Secretary, to discuss how the branch managers could clear their names in addition to further action the Government could take.

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Fellow Yorkshire MP Sir David Davis yesterday called for ministers to look at a mass appeal against convictions

"There are now tens of millions of people who care about this - care a lot," Sir David said. "They're furious in many cases."

All cases are currently considered individually, but he added: "All of the cases depend on one single lie, and that is nobody but the postmasters and mistresses could access their computers.

“We now know that to be untrue. I see no real reason, no logical reason you can't have a mass case, mass appeal on that basis.

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“It did take a docudrama in this case I’m afraid, and many of us have been struggling for a long while to try and elevate it.”

The sudden interest in the case by ministers in the scandal that took place between 1999 and 2015 comes after an ITV drama - Mr Bates vs The Post Office - took it back into the spotlight after airing last week.

The Prime Minister, who visited Accrington in Lancashire on Monday, sought to defend the Government’s response but said he wanted to speed up the compensation process for victims.

“People should know that we are on it and we want to make this right, that money has been set aside,” he said.

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“We will do everything we can to make this right for the people affected. It is simply wrong what happened. They shouldn’t have been treated like this.”

Sir Keir Starmer has called for prosecution powers to be stripped from the Post Office and previous convictions looked at again.

The Labour leader said: “And these convictions, the remaining convictions, need to be looked at en masse.”

He added: “The Government could pass legislation, so obviously we’d support that if they did.”

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“It might be possible to get these cases back before the Court of Appeal quickly – I’ve done that when I was a prosecutor – but whichever way it’s done, these convictions need to be looked at.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has also faced fresh scrutiny over his role as postal affairs minister during the coalition government. His predecessor Sir Vince Cable, who was business secretary during that period, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme Sir Ed is being made a “scapegoat”.

Reports suggest that since Mr Bates Vs The Post Office was broadcast, 50 new potential victims have approached lawyers.