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Horizon Settlement: Future Governance of Post Office Ltd

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:13 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:13 pm, 19th March 2020

The Post Office Horizon scandal must rank as one of the most shocking and badly handled ever. Its impact on honest, hard-working sub-postmasters has been truly devastating and life changing. Even the compensation won by the sub-postmasters in their class action against the Post Office will do very little to replace the lost years of pain, suffering and social stigma due to being classed as criminals, when all these people set out to do was to earn an honest living.

One of those affected is my constituent Kamran Ashraf, whose wife was a sub-postmaster, and together they ran the business. Right from the beginning, using the Horizon software provided by the Post Office, there were shortfalls. In September 2003, the Post Office carried out an audit of their branch and found a shortfall of £25,000. Following investigation, the Post Office prosecuted Kamran and his wife, but because they had two small children, even though they had done nothing wrong, Kamran decided to plead guilty so that their children would not risk both their parents being incarcerated. In February 2004, he was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment at Kingston crown court and, to add insult to injury, was fined £25,000.

Kamran and his wife lost their business and their home and had to enter into an individual voluntary arrangement to pay off creditors. Because of his conviction Kamran struggled to find work, and although his conviction is now spent and he has found employment, he still has that stain on his reputation because his conviction has not been overturned.

In August 2015 Kamran happened to chance on the BBC “Panorama” TV programme, which highlighted other cases identical to his, where sub-postmasters were prosecuted and convicted due to shortfalls in their takings following an audit. Dozens of sub-postmasters were affected and came forward and formed an action group called the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, or JFSA for short. The JFSA, led by Alan Bates, brought a class action with a total of 557 sub-postmasters which was vigorously fought by the Post Office, and on 11 December 2019 the sub-postmasters were awarded £57.75 million in damages.

My right hon. Friend Mr Jones is right when he says that the biggest scandal of all was the fact that the Post Office denied that there was any flaw in the system but knew all along there was a problem, while innocent people were sent to prison.