Post Office scandal roundup: Fourth Estate in full throttle

The Post Office scandal has become markedly political, and while Computer Weekly continues to investigate, the journalistic resources of the mainstream media have also gone full throttle. 

It’s no longer just Computer Weekly, Private Eye and freelancer Nick Wallis making important discoveries, but the full might of the Fourth Estate.

That means rather than a couple of journalists applying their investigative skills to the story, there are now hundreds emboldened by the work already done to expose the scandal.

This is a welcome development, taking the story of one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in UK history to the wider public and gleaning new information in the process.

While Computer Weekly continues to dig, here is a roundup of some of the other big news stories regarding the Post Office scandal over the past month.

Former Post Office chairman spills the beans

Much of the past few weeks has been dominated by a very public spat between ousted Post Office chairman Henry Staunton and secretary of state for business and trade Kemi Badenoch.

Staunton was sacked by Badenoch in late January, although it was initially described as a parting of ways by mutual agreement. He then gave a tell-all interview to the Sunday Times on 18 February.

Staunton revealed he had been sacked because “somebody had to take the rap” for Post Office failings.

He also informed the Sunday Times he was told by the business department to stall the financial redress payments to victims of the scandal to save money and enable the government to “limp into the election”, and that there wasn’t really any movement on compensation until after the Mr Bates vs the Post Office television drama.

Kemi Badenoch denied this, and added fuel to the fiery spat with claims that Staunton was making things up, and instead being investigated for bullying.

Post Office still believes many subpostmasters are guilty

Another revelation that emerged in the Staunton and Badenoch dispute was the fact that the Post Office appears to stand by about half of the prosecutions of subpostmasters.

Post Office CEO Nick Read had written a letter to justice secretary Alex Chalk regarding the government’s decision to overturn hundreds of subpostmaster convictions en masse.

In the letter, Read said the Post Office would oppose appeals against 369 of the prosecutions because the evidence relied on in these cases was unrelated to the faulty system.

It has since emerged that Nick Vamos, a lawyer at Post Office solicitors Peters & Peters, said it is “highly likely that the vast majority of people who have not yet appealed were, in fact, guilty as charged and were safely convicted”.

Post Office directors benefit financially from scandal inquiry

One story, which although not new, received a mainstream gloss this month, came when Channel 4 looked deeper into the controversial “Bonusgate” situation.

This scandal within a scandal was revealed during phase three of the Horizon IT public inquiry last year. The Post Office was forced to apologise after it was revealed it had paid executives, including CEO Read, bonuses for providing the inquiry with all the information it needed, on time.

The inquiry stated there was a “misleading and inaccurate statement within the Post Office’s annual financial report” that said executives received bonuses for “all required evidence and information supplied on time, with confirmation from Sir Wyn Williams and team that Post Office’s performance supported and enabled the inquiry to finish in line with expectations”.

But Williams said in a statement: “Neither myself, nor any member of my team, agreed to participate in any way in the confirmation (or otherwise) that POL’s performance in the inquiry was such that it ought to lead to bonuses being paid to POL executives”.

Read has since repaid the part of his bonus related to the supply of evidence.

The Post Office is 100% owned by the government, and all bonuses are signed off by the minister – Channel 4 confirmed this was the case with the inquiry bonuses.

Watch the Channel Four report here.

Police investigating the investigators

Some of the most shocking hearings during the statutory public inquiry have been those involving the investigators within the Post Office who investigated alleged financial crimes committed by subpostmasters. The inquiry has heard evidence that they considered subpostmasters thieves, that they were paid bonuses related to the number of prosecutions, and neglected to look at computer evidence that would have cleared subpostmasters of wrongdoing,

The latest news claims that the Post Office has hired investigators to investigate its own investigators. Some of these are former police officers.

A Post Office spokesperson said it takes “any allegations of wrongdoing extremely seriously, and investigates through established procedures including the involvement of relevant authorities as appropriate”.

Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered as a result of the Horizon system.

By 111 Tech

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