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January 11th 2022

Post Office Horizon

Reaction to Government’s BEIS Committee hearing with Post Office chief executive Nick Read and Minister Paul Scully

Dr Neil Hudgell

Dr Neil Hudgell

Executive Chairman

Reaction to Government’s BEIS Committee hearing with Post Office chief executive Nick Read and Minister Paul Scully

I watched today’s House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee hearing with great interest as the Chief Executive of the Post Office, Nick Read, appeared and was questioned alongside Small Business Minister Paul Scully.

I watched today’s House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee hearing with great interest as the Chief Executive of the Post Office, Nick Read, appeared and was questioned alongside Small Business Minister Paul Scully.

My main takeaways from what was discussed and revealed were;

1)  A real fear of lawyers, the Post Office and the process is preventing people coming forward 

For the first time we heard that there were 736 convictions out of 950 prosecutions that were “Horizon intrinsic”. Of those only 72 have been quashed to date, approximately 10%.

On the number of replies to letters sent by the Post Office a further 10% are in the “pipeline” and are likely to be quashed in due course. This leaves a staggering 80% remaining unaddressed.

Understandably, and sadly, some will remain unaddressed through death and other non-tracing reasons. But that aside 80% is a staggering number.

It seems to me that there needs to be a fresh round of media and PR, in client friendly terms, that demystifies the process and ensures all those affected feel comfortable in coming forward and presenting justified damages claims, as well as an early process for exoneration of their names.

2)  The Post Office and Government are overly ambitious in aiming for resolution of the majority of claims by the end of this year


Nick Read mentioned that the target was for 95% of Historical Shortfall Scheme (HSS) claims to be resolved by the year end. Small Business Minister Paul Scully says he is aiming for 100%. I am assuming they have the same ambition for the malicious prosecution claims.

To date one third of those HSS claims have been processed. Anecdotally, I believe those claims to have been the lower value ones. The higher value claims will take some detailed consideration.

From my own experience of dealing with the malicious prosecution claims, expert evidence will be needed and significant issues will arise around lack of documentation.

I would therefore be amazed if there was a full resolution of all claims in the course of this year. It is fine to have lofty ambitions, but at the same time expectation has to be managed. I just wonder if this statement will come back to haunt the Minister.

3)  “The system has to have the right balance between speed and the right compensation” 

Mr Scully was right when making this statement around compensation. These badly affected people need their claims settling quickly. They cannot though be “undercooked”.

It concerns me that many HSS claims have been resolved with an obvious absence of legal advice. Those few claims that I have seen in many instances are open to challenge or are incomplete without lawyer input. The temptation though is to accept and bank the cash rather than go through an open-ended mediation.

I’ve asked if interim payments can be made available in one case where some heads of loss can be agreed, whilst others need further work. I’m still waiting for an answer.

Limited legal costs are offered in relation to scheme claims, but they are nominal and lawyers face the prospect of working for next to nothing or taking a slice of damages that seems unjust at face value.

Beyond that it’s fair to reflect on the fact that Post Office have in the main part offered interim payments quickly to alleviate financial distress for many of the exonerated.

They deserve some credit for that (although having said that we have three cases where interim payments have been refused – something we consider hugely unjust and a position which we are working hard to rectify. These are good people badly wronged).

The interim payments have enabled us to spend some time properly detailing malicious prosecution claims, using forensic accountants and consultant psychiatrists to try and reconstruct potentially very significant loss of earnings claims, including future losses.

With regards to the two lead malicious prosecution cases, opening proposals that have been received are encouraging and lay a platform for meaningful discussion. There’s a lot of work to do on them though before they provide a blueprint for rolling out to other cases.

4)   Lack of documentation must not restrict subpostmasters’ entitlement  

The issue of a lack of documentation relevant to certain heads of claim has to be tackled.

This is not just a Post Office problem as we are seeing a lack of documentation from the Benefits Agency and Tax Office, for example. Any benefit of the doubt has to be resolved in subpostmasters’ favour, so long as losses put forward bear a reasonable level of scrutiny and plausibility.

The other substantial issue that requires resolution is how income tax is applied and credited to settlement proposals. Calculations can be very detailed and confusing. The Government can resolve this matter with a tax indemnity agreed with the Inland Revenue internally between departments.

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