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Horizon Settlement: Future Governance of Post Office Ltd

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 3:30 pm, 19th March 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Horizon settlement and future governance of Post Office Ltd.

Innocent people jailed; individuals having their good name and livelihoods taken away from them; the full use of the state and its finances to persecute individuals. Those are all characteristics of a totalitarian or police state. But that is exactly what we have seen in the 21st century in the way the Government and the Post Office have dealt with sub-postmasters and their use of the Horizon system. The Horizon system was the biggest non-military IT project in Europe. It cost over £1 billion to install and affected 18,000 post offices throughout the UK.

Before I go on, I would like to pay tribute to some individuals who I have been working long and hard with on this campaign. The first is Andrew Bridgen, who cannot be here today because, unfortunately, a family member is ill and he has had to self-isolate. He has been with me from the start in trying to get justice for sub-postmasters, and I will refer to some of his work later. He would like to have been here and sends his apologies; that he is not here does not mean that he is not interested in the outcome. I also thank James Arbuthnot, the former Member for North East Hampshire, who, despite being moved to God’s waiting room further along the corridor, has still consistently pressed the case for justice for sub-postmasters. I pay tribute to the work that he has done in the past and is doing now.

I want to mention two other individuals. Alan Bates is the lead claimant in the class action. Alan has been a stalwart and stuck by his principles—knowing, as he said, that “I am right and I am going to make sure we get the truth out.” The other person is someone who has very helpfully shone a spotlight on the issue, and has spent many hours sitting through long court cases: Nick Wallis is a journalist who has kept this story in the public domain. Alan and Nick both deserve credit for their continued actions now and their work in the past.

I first came to be involved in the issue when a constituent came to see me in my surgery. That constituent was Tom Brown. Tom, like many other thousands of sub-postmasters, was a hard-working and well-respected individual. He had won awards from the Post Office for fighting off an armed robber in his post office, but because of the introduction of the Horizon system, he was accused of stealing £84,000 from the Post Office. Even though he said and demonstrated that that was not the case, the Post Office took him to court, and he went through the agony of being publicly shamed in his local community—we must remember that a lot of these individuals are the stalwarts of their local communities.

Tom went to Newcastle Crown court, and on the day of the trial the Post Office withdrew the case, but the damage had already been done. His good name had been ruined, and he had lost—because he had had to go bankrupt—in excess of nearly half a million pounds in the form of his business, the bungalow that he had bought for his retirement and some investment properties. He now lives with his son in social housing in South Stanley. The man who should have had a nice retirement, and who was well respected in his community, has been completely ruined and is destitute. Despite that—he came to see me last week—he is an individual who still has integrity, because he has always insisted that he is innocent of what he was accused of, and he has not been alone.  Despite that—he came to see me last week— he is an individual who still has integrity, because he has always insisted that he is innocent of what he was accused of, and he has not been alone. The estimate from the class action that has been taken is 555, and there are many others, some unfortunately who have died since the case was taken forward.

The scandal of this—what makes me so angry and why I have persistently hung on to the campaign—is that the Post Office knew all along that the Horizon system was flawed.