The UK government has committed to offering £600,000 in compensation to Post Office workers who have had their undeserved convictions for theft and false accounting overturned. However, Harjinder Butoy, a postmaster who was incarcerated for 18 months, contends that the sum is insufficient.
Approximately 700 managers of branch offices may have become entangled in legal proceedings based on questionable evidence provided by defective accounting software. The software error yielded an appearance of missing funds from their sites. To date, 86 convictions have been successfully challenged and reversed.
The government maintains that this compensation is being offered without conditions, intended for postmasters whose convictions depended on the now discredited Horizon IT system. This financial recompense will be given in exchange for the postmasters’ agreement to their settlement of claims.
Postmasters who have already accepted initial compensation or inked a settlement with the Post Office for a sum less than £600,000, will be awarded the outstanding difference.
76-year-old Noel Thomas, a resident of Anglesey, who served a prison term for false accounting in 2006, shared that this compensation offer of £600,000 for many, will not ameliorate the losses endured as a result of the Horizon scandal. In a conversation with the BBC, Thomas candidly expressed his anguish especially regarding the emotional toll on his family and mentioned how people had lost properties in this unfortunate saga.
The government purports their offered settlement as an attempt to resolve the scandal. Postmasters can proceed with the current process if they do not wish to accept the offer, and they will continue to receive funds to defray legal fees. Individuals still waiting for their convictions to be overturned, should they succeed, can expect to be included in the entitled compensation.
Harjinder Butoy, a former co-operator of a post office in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, served half of his three-year and three-month sentence following his wrongful conviction in 2007. He still awaits compensation and remains staunch in his belief that the £600,000 offer is far from adequate. He voiced his scepticism about an attempt for “quick and easy” compensation, stating his commitment to secure fair reimbursement despite the slow process.
Kevin Hollinrake, the Post Office Minister, asserted the government’s commitment to making amends for the wrongful convictions and affirmed that the proposed amount is waiting for those affected. However, he conceded that while the government has leaned towards generosity in its decision, for some, this compensation might not suffice.
Till now, £21m has been disbursed to postmasters with overturned convictions, as a part of one of three distinct compensation schemes set up amidst the developing scandal. The Post Office Horizon Scandal, marked as the worst miscarriage of justice in UK history, led to the Post Office prosecuting 700 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses based on dubious information from the recently installed Horizon computer system from 1999 to 2015. A number of them faced imprisonment and financial ruin, with many being ostracised by their communities, and some have since passed away.
Neil Hudgell, a solicitor representing most of the exonerated postmasters, iterated that while the £600,000 is an attractive offer, for many it does not symbolise full and just compensation. The Horizon inquiry, currently investigating this scandal, is projected to conclude in 2024.