Lawyers representing subpostmasters wrongfully convicted as part of the Post Office Horizon scandal expect evidence given to the ongoing Public Inquiry to come under ‘increased media and public scrutiny’ when it resumes later this week.
The Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry will enter its third year when it resumes in London on Thursday morning.
However, in the wake of huge national support for subpostmasters following the ITV drama series ‘Mr Bates v The Post Office’ – and with many senior Post Office officials still to give their evidence on oath this year – it is now likely to command a much higher media profile.
“The television drama has quite rightly brought this case, and the appalling injustice against hundreds of subpostmasters, into public consciousness,” said solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors.
There has been a sense of outrage regarding the conduct of the Post Office, but also overwhelming sympathy and support for what the subpostmasters and their families have been through.
What it will also do now, I believe, is lead to increased media and public scrutiny of exactly what is said at the Public Inquiry, which of course is the platform at which we all seek answers and accountability for those who have lost so much.
The eyes of the world will now be on every development, and every piece of evidence heard at the inquiry from this point on, and that has to be a good thing for transparency and justice.
Post Office investigator with ‘heavy footprints’ on issues to be questioned
First to give evidence this week will be former Post Office investigator Stephen Bradshaw, a man previously described by Counsel to the Inquiry Jason Beer KC as having “heavy footprints’ on the issues being considered.
He was part of the Post Office investigation team which led to criminal proceedings being launched against Noel Thomas, of Anglesey, resulting in him being jailed in 2006 over an alleged shortfall of £48,450 in his branch accounts.
Mr Bradshaw had been due to appear and be questioned last November, but his evidence was postponed as legal teams representing the Post Office said more than 300,000 potentially relevant emails – which had previously been missed and therefore not disclosed to the inquiry – had been discovered.
The inquiry will also place scrutiny this week on disclosure by Fujitsu, which developed the Horizon system, before next week hearing from employees of Fujitsu, including software developers, leaders within the software support team and the manager of the security team for the Post Office’s account.
Watch: ‘Two Decades – The Fight For Justice’
Our documentary film tells the story of the Post Office scandal through the eyes of the victims fighting to overturn their wrongful convictions.
If you’ve suffered as a result of the Post Office scandal and want to speak to us, contact our Horizon team today:
‘Who knew what and when?’
“Our clients want accountability for those who took the decisions which ultimately led to them being prosecuted, to losing their homes, to losing their livelihoods, to losing their minds,” added Mr Hudgell.
It is about accountability, about people individually being held to their actions and to justify what they have done, and if at the end of that there are individual prosecutions or professional misconduct proceedings then so be it.
It’s not for us to say any more about that. What we are focussed on is preparing the questions, assisting counsel to the inquiry with getting to the bottom of what went on and when.
‘No stone unturned in quest for justice’
Mr Hudgell said that, since the drama aired in the first week of the New Year, his firm has had more than 100 people come forward for legal advice.
These have included more people wrongfully prosecuted and convicted, people who were forced to pay back alleged ‘shortfalls’ in branch accounts and lost their livelihoods, and a large number of relatives of former subpostmasters who have since died.
“There is also new information coming in to us on a daily basis which may well be of interest to the inquiry, and we are handing that over to the inquiry team as it does so,” said Mr Hudgell, whose firm has already helped 73 former subpostmasters clear their names in the courts.
We have a job to represent all those respected subpostmasters, which has involved forensically trawling through the witness statements and documents and working with our expert counsel team to be putting questions to all those witnesses that are going to be called, so that at the end of the day, our clients feel that we left no stone unturned in that quest for justice.
‘Post Office Horizon Scandal’ Podcast Series
In our exclusive Podcast Series, Neil Hudgell discusses the case, the fight for justice, why Hudgells is proud to represent and help those affected and why Neil believes so many others are yet to come forward. Listen here.
If you’ve suffered as a result of the post office scandal and want to speak to us, contact our Horizon team today by email or request a callback.
Mr Hudgell admits both he and his subpostmaster clients had been frustrated that the Inquiry had slipped behind schedule in 2023, but says they have full confidence in chair Sir Wyn Williams and his team to ensure the inquiry fulfils its role, given the ‘forensic’ approach taken so far.
“We’re well behind the initial schedule and there has been much documented commentary on the reasons for that, a primary reason being the Post Office’s continuing failure to deliver on disclosure in a timely manner,” added Mr Hudgell.
We’ve not had disclosure of all the relevant paperwork that enables us to ask all the right questions of the right witnesses, so that has been a source of frustration and it is also a source of continued mistrust for the clients, because they see it as the Post Office up to their old tricks.
It is a hugely positive thing that this TV drama has placed the eyes of the world on the Post Office as the Inquiry resumes. The importance of what this inquiry finds and concludes cannot be overstated.”