Prime minister Boris Johnson has made clear his intention of “getting to the bottom” of the Post Office Horizon scandal through a public inquiry.
The comments were made today during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. Johnson was asked by Labour MP Kate Osborne, whether he would commit to an independent inquiry.
Osborne explained: “Like many other subpostmasters, my constituent, Christopher Head, fell victim of the Horizon IT system scandal. This has resulted in bankruptcy, imprisonment and even suicides. Will the Prime Minister today commit to an independent public inquiry?”
Johnson responded: “I am indeed aware of the scandal to which [Osborne] alludes and the disasters that have befallen many Post Office workers, and I am happy to commit to getting to the bottom of the matter in the way that she recommends.”
Responding to the news, a spokesperson for the Post Office told Better Retailing: “Questions about public inquiries are a matter for Government. A comprehensive final settlement was jointly agreed by the Post Office and the claimants in the Group Litigation last year. This agreement was a result of a successful independent mediation, with both sides working together with real effort and a genuine commitment to achieve a resolution.
We apologised to those affected by our past shortcomings and we are continuing to address these directly. We will shortly be launching a scheme to address historic branch shortfalls for former and current postmasters who were not part of the Group Litigation settlement.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission is investigating a number of applications from former postmasters and we are assisting the Commission to the fullest extent with this complex work.”
The NFSP said it hoped that any inquiry: “provide transparency and closure to the issue,” and pledged to contribute to proceedings should one be opened by the Government. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) supported Johnson’s commitment and called on the inquiry to avoid a ‘whitewash’ by ensuring it has: “The necessary powers of investigation and powers to compel witnesses to attend and to produce evidence when requested.”
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Describing its stance on an enquiry, a spokesperson for the NFSP told Better Retailing: “It is clear that a significant amount of work will be required to reset the relationship between Post Office Ltd and subpostmasters in such a way that benefits and protects the interests of the latter.”
“Since its creation in 1897 the NFSP, has been run by subpostmasters for subpostmasters, and, as self-employed businesspeople, we require that Post Office Ltd should work with us in fair and appropriate partnership. This, of course, extends to the equipment we use to carry out our duties as subpostmasters – it is vital that these systems are fit for purpose.”
Mark Baker, CWU national branch secretary outlined the union’s position stating: “There have been systemic failings of governance both within the [Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy] and UK government and investments who sit on [Post Office Ltd.]’s board, as well as within the Post Office.”
“I wish to pay tribute to the victims of the Post Office who have campaigned for this inquiry and the CWU was happy to assist their campaign.”
In December, the Post Office agreed to pay subpostmasters £57.7m to settle the case, which saw 550 subpostmasters wrongly accused of fraud or theft due to repeated errors with its Horizon computer system. However, after legal costs, those affected are likely to receive just £10million between them.
Read more on the Horizon scandal