Last week, it became clear how effective well-made TV drama can move and shape public opinion. It is an issue that has been ongoing for some time. MPs across the country have been raising cases with the Post Office and with the Government. This has promoted reviews and inquiries and legal action brought. However, the ITV drama series brought the whole sorry saga together in one place that was powerful and entered the public consciousness.
For many MPs, including myself, we have had individual cases brought to us and we have advocated on their behalf to try to get justice. Years ago, it was acknowledged that there were problems and that the IT system was at fault but righting that terrible injustice and clearing the names of those wrongly accused has taken longer than it should have done. The Post Office scandal is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history, shaking people’s faith in the principles of equality and fairness that form the core pillars of our legal system. It shows what happens when the system fails to acknowledge mistakes early and instead persists in a defensive way to try to protect its own reputation despite the impact on innocent people.
People who worked hard to serve their communities had their lives and reputations destroyed through absolutely no fault of their own. Nonetheless, I am now pleased that the Government has finally committed to resolute action to resolve this matter once and for all, clearing people’s names and giving them the compensation that they deserve.
This is going to be achieved by introducing new primary legislation to make sure those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal are swiftly exonerated. We will do this on a blanket basis and consider whether to include the small number of cases that have already been considered by the appeal courts, this will clear people’s names and pave the way for innocent individuals to receive at least £600,000 in compensation.
We will also introduce a Fixed Sum Award option of £75,000 to the cohort of postmasters who originally brought this injustice to the forefront. Claimants who have higher-value claims will still have the option of full assessment and redress. Hopefully, within a few months, we can finally resolve this matter and try and learn lessons from it, so it is not repeated.
I often talk about how fantastic our Civil Service can be, however, this is clearly an example of institutional failure on an extreme level. As such it is right that Paula Vennells has handed back her CBE and it is a mystery as to why she was recommended for one in the first place. What is abundantly clear, is with the Government being the only shareholder of the Post Office, it must be accountable. If we cannot understand why Civil Servants failed to get to the bottom of the problem at Fujitsu, the software company or lied to Ministers about the scale and nature of the problem in a vain attempt to cover it up, we will never avoid this happening again.
We must make sure the truth comes to light, and we right the wrongs of the past so that the victims get the justice they deserve.