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British PM Rishi Sunak pledges action over Post Office scandal impacting many British Indians

The accounting scandal wrongly accused hundreds of sub-postmasters of fraud, many of them of Indian heritage

PTI London Published 07.01.24, 06:24 PM
British PM Rishi Sunak

British PM Rishi Sunak File photo

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday said that the government is reviewing the compensation process in an accounting scandal that wrongly accused hundreds of sub-postmasters of fraud, many of them of Indian heritage.

During an interview with the BBC, Sunak was asked about the historic scandal involving a faulty IT system named Horizon dating back to the late 1990s and confirmed that his justice minister is “looking at” how the process of overturning wrongful convictions and providing compensations can be speeded up.

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The government, which formally owns Post Office Ltd, has paid out millions in compensation to many of the sub-postmasters impacted but there are many others still waiting for years.

"Obviously it's something that happened in the '90s but actually seeing it and hearing about it again just shows what an appalling miscarriage of justice it is for everyone affected and it's important that those people now get the justice they deserve, and that's what the compensation schemes are about,” said Sunak.

"The government has paid out about GBP 150 million to thousands of people already. Of course, we want to get the money to the people as quickly as possible, that's why there are interim payments of up to, I think, GBP 600,000 that can be made. There are three different schemes available and for anyone affected, they should come forward," he said.

The issue has been brought back into focus again with a hard-hitting real-life ITV drama series ‘Mr Bates Vs The Post Office’, which aired in the UK this month, and the Metropolitan Police confirmed soon after that it is investigating the Post Office over potential fraud offences.

Dozens more impacted by the faulty accounting system have since sought legal help, adding to the already over 700 sub-postmasters impacted by the scandal.

Back in April 2021, the case of Seema Biswas, now 47, came to light when she had her conviction quashed alongside Vijay Parekh – two British Indian sub-postmasters among a group of 39 who won a Court of Appeal case.

Misra took over her post office in Surrey in 2005 and was pregnant when she was wrongly handed a 15-month sentence over 12 years ago after being accused of stealing GBP 75,000 from her branch.

"I would have killed myself if I hadn't been pregnant," said Misra, a mother of two who had hailed the Court of Appeal verdict as a “huge moment”.

Sub-postmasters like her had appealed their convictions on two grounds: that they had been denied a fair trial, and that the circumstances in which the prosecutions went ahead "represents an affront to public conscience".

In the ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, a three-judge bench granted the appeal on both grounds.

"Post Office Limited's failures of investigation and disclosure were so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the 'Horizon cases' an affront to the conscience of the court," said Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde, sitting with Justice Simon Picken and Justice Judith Farbey, at the time.

He said the Post Office "knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon" and had a "clear duty to investigate" the system's defects.

The ruling meant the former postmasters could bring new civil cases for malicious prosecution. However, the process has been a long-drawn one for the victims, many of whom are still waiting for their rightful exoneration and compensation in what has been branded as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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