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Neil Hudgell : Many subpostmasters can’t mentally endure this ongoing political blame game, nor the tortuously slow compensation process

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4 min read time
23 Feb 2024

Neil Hudgell was this week asked by the i newspaper to comment on why victims’ stories must not be lost in the fray of political fighting around the Post Office Horizon scandal. Below is his article in full.

As we continue to seek full and fair compensation for all who have suffered at the hands of the Post Office, I worry about my clients becoming caught in the crossfire as a political blame game plays out.

The ITV drama Mr Bates v the Post Office brought with it a huge groundswell of support that enabled hundreds of people who have suffered for so long to finally feel vindicated.

Hundreds of sub-postmasters and postmistresses were wrongly prosecuted after faulty computer software calculated that money was missing from post office branches. Some were forced to pay thousands of pounds, lost their businesses, reputations and even jailed. They have now finally been vindicated and the Government has promised to pay them compensation – but they have yet to receive it.

Until Mr Bates v the Post Office, many of the affected subpostmasters still felt the need to continue explaining themselves to others, to people in their communities, and in their everyday lives. They felt they were still perceived as being culpable of something, due to many people viewing things in a “no smoke without fire” frame of mind.

Prior to the TV series I had heard stories of people saying to subpostmasters “you got away with it then?” when they were acquitted in the courts. There was still a lack of understanding.

Now, in the midst of all this public support following the drama, it also needs to be remembered that we have here a seriously damaged group of people who have lived with the consequences of poor mental health for over two decades and more.

This has been made clear in psychiatric reports which spell out just how badly people have been affected.

I have come to understand, from dealing over the last five years with upwards of 500 heavily traumatised people, that no one-size solution fits all. Each case is unique and tragic in its circumstances.

Even now, I speak with clients who I think I know very well who in each conversation drop in some added revelation about the impact this has had on their lives, such as telling me that they have kept what happened from their own families, and have only now felt able to tell their children, saying it has been their “dirty secret”.

Consequently, we need to remember the potential negative impact on these people from reading about each new revelation as it is uncovered.

Some clients simply cannot cope with hearing the detail of any revelation. Some clients find it too hard to watch the Public Inquiry as it unfolds. Others need to take a rain check from time to time.

I know of people that I can only approach for instructions on particular days at particular times. They simply do not have the mental strength to play out the drama all over again, as the blame game now continues to unfold on a daily basis in the media spotlight, and in government.

For others, the tortuously slow process of pursuing compensation adds further agonies. They feel that they are being reclassified as criminals again when they have to justify every penny that they have spent over the last 20 years making ends meet to make their own claims for damages.

I am immensely privileged to represent this group of people, who were so badly wronged. We just have to be careful that in carrying a torch for them, we do not innocently re-injure them or open scars that are so far from healing.

At the heart of each and every story relating to this case is an individual or family who have been badly harmed, and who desperately need to be able to put this behind them and lead the rest of their lives without their past with the Post Office being their immediate waking thought.

The focus now needs to be on creative solutions, like the £600,000 package offered to those who have convictions overturned. Take the focus way from a micro analysis of fine detail, and take the subpostmasters at face value. Pay them what it is readily apparent they have lost, and pay it quickly.

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Neil Hudgell : Many subpostmasters can’t mentally endure this ongoing political blame game, nor the tortuously slow compensation process

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