The Post Office has agreed to pay subpostmasters £57.75m to settle the high profile Horizon court case and admitted mistakes in the way it treated its partnered retailers.
More than 500 subpostmasters said they were wrongly accused of fraud or theft due to technical glitches with the Post Office’s Horizon computer system. Some were imprisoned, others bankrupted and retailers previously told betterRetailing they had lost their businesses as a result of the disputes.
Discussing the resolution to the trial, Post Office chairman Tim Parker said: “We accept that, in the past, we got things wrong in our dealings with a number of postmasters and we look forward to moving ahead now, with our new CEO currently leading a major overhaul of our engagement and relationship with postmasters.”
The Post Office’s chief executive Nick Read added: “We are committed to a reset in our relationship with postmasters, placing them alongside our customers at the centre of our business.
“As we agree to close this difficult chapter, we look forward to continuing the hard work ahead of us in shaping a modern and dynamic Post Office, serving customers in a genuine commercial partnership with postmasters, for the benefit of communities across the UK.”
Alan Bates is a former postmaster who has led the campaign for justice for those affected by the alleged computer issues. He thanked Read for his “leadership, engagement and determination in helping to reach a settlement of this long running dispute.”
Bates described the settlement stating that during the mediation it became clear that Read intends to “put in place new processes and support for [subpostmasters] as part of a wider programme of improvements. It would seem that from the positive discussions with Post Office’s new CEO, Nick Read, that there is a genuine desire to move on from these legacy issues and learn lessons from the past.”
Due to the high value of the settlement, the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy had to sign-off the payment before it could be confirmed. A spokesperson from the government department told BetterRetailing: “The Government welcomes today’s announcement that a resolution has been reached between the parties to settle this long-running litigation and the steps they have taken through the mediation talks.”
The settlement comes following news both sides have racked up nearly £40m of combined legal bills, with much of the cost for the first trial payable by the Post Office.
Despite the conclusion, questions remain unanswered. While the settlement relates to the first approximately 500 claimants, it is understood that another 500 former and current subpostmasters have come forward claiming they too have been wrongly accused and left out of pocket by the Post Office.
A source close to the case told betterRetailing that it is likely they would have to undertake separate litigation using the existing rulings if they are to continue with their claims.
Sources have also claimed that the judgement has the potential to “completely rewrite” the Post Office’s nearly decade-long Network Transformation Project, because the Post Office could be forced to undo or renegotiate previous terms changes applied to retailers without consultation.
There is also the question of those who say they wrongly received criminal convictions related to theft and fraud following flawed cases led by Post Office investigators.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) investigates potential miscarriages of justice and was awaiting the outcome of this litigation before considering whether subpostmasters had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned because of the Post Office’s actions.
Finally, the findings of the second Horizon trial, which were delayed due to the mediation are due out next week. It will determine the central tenet of the case – whether the Post Office’s Horizon computer system was responsible for accounting errors that cost individual retailers their reputation, their businesses and even their freedom.
This judgement is likely to represent an important element in the upcoming CCRC appeals of those who say they were wrongly convicted.