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Post Office statement on Postmasters’ appeals of historical convictions

Press release   •   Oct 02, 2020 12:25 BST

The Post Office has today formally responded to the Court of Appeal and Southwark Crown Court regarding historical convictions of former postmasters between 2001 and 2013 referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) earlier this year. It is not opposing the majority of appeals in which it acted as prosecutor.

The CCRC referred for appeal a total of 47 cases of former postmasters prosecuted by Post Office.

The Board of the Post Office has carefully considered each case referred by the CCRC.

Having considered the CCRC’s Statement of Reasons, the findings made in the Post Office Group Litigation and material reviewed as part of its extensive disclosure exercise, Post Office is not opposing 44 of the appeals in which it acted as prosecutor.

Tim Parker, Chairman of the Post Office, said:

“I am sincerely sorry on behalf of the Post Office for historical failings which seriously affected some postmasters. Post Office is resetting its relationship with postmasters with reforms that prevent such past events ever happening again.”

Post Office wishes to ensure that allpostmasters entitled to claim civil compensation because of their convictions being overturned are recompensed as quickly as possible. Therefore, we are considering the best process for doing that. Further details will be published in due course.

In addition to full co-operation with the Criminal Cases Review Commission’s review, the Post Office has set up an extensive disclosure exercise, by external criminal law specialists, to identify material which might affect the safety of any relevant historical prosecutions.

This exercise covers Post Office’s conduct as prosecutor between 1999 and 2013 and is examining among other things, issues such as Post Office’s knowledge of, and attitude towards the reliability of Horizon, the nature of postmasters’ contracts, and Post Office’s approach to all cases prosecuted during that period which relied on Horizon.

This work is expected to be completed within the next few months and Post Office will update the court and the appellants on the results.

Fundamental Reform

Since his appointment last year the Chief Executive of the Post Office, Nick Read, has undertaken a wholesale reform of the organisation. Nick Read said: 

“We are forging a new relationship with postmasters helping them to build thriving Post Office businesses for customers and communities throughout the UK. The difficult lessons of the past are being learnt, and we are making fundamental changes to our culture, practices and operating procedures.”

To help deliver the reset of Post Office’s relationship with postmasters, the Post Office appointed a new Director, Declan Salter, in August. Mr Salter reports to Tim Parker and Nick Read with responsibilities including implementing claims schemes to provide redress for postmasters affected by historical events and a programme of scrutinising operational measures for any further improvement. Declan Salter said: 

“We are addressing the past in a fair and transparent way, ensuring there is redress for postmasters and making significant operational improvements that put postmasters at the heart of the Post Office.”

Actions already taken by the Post Office include:

  • Agreement to appoint a current postmaster as Non-Executive Director to the Post Office Board to influence Post Office strategy and the implementation of programmes affecting postmasters.
  • Establishing claims schemes to provide redress for former and current postmasters who experienced unexplained shortfalls in the past. The Historical Shortfall Scheme began in May 2020 and a new scheme is launched today to provide redress for postmasters affected by past weaknesses in our stamps stock processes.
  • Undertaking a programme of improvements to overhaul culture, practices and operating procedures throughout every part of the Post Office to forge an open and transparent relationship with our postmasters. Nearly 100 area managers now provide personalised, individual support to postmasters.
  • Comprehensive improvements made from initial recruitment and training through to daily transaction accounting, including design changes made to transactions on Horizon, based on postmaster feedback.
  • Setting out for every postmaster the detailed responsibilities and commitments which support them to build thriving businesses, serving the UK’s communities.
  • Increasing postmaster remuneration by £20 million a year on top of the £17 million increases secured for banking services through our new framework with the high street banks. 

Notes to editors

Referrals to appeal courts

Most of the referrals by the CCRC are to the Court of Appeal because they relate to convictions in the Crown Court. Those few cases which followed convictions in the Magistrates’ Court must be appealed to the Crown Court.

There are six separate appeals referred to Southwark Crown Court relating to convictions in Magistrates’ Courts. An appeal from a Magistrates’ Court is a re-trial rather than a review of the original proceedings. Post Office is not opposing any of these appeals so the appellant convictions will be quashed. This process does not require the court to issue a written judgment and is likely to occur ahead of any judgment from the Court of Appeal.

Post Office no longer undertakes any private prosecutions. Cases related to Horizon effectively ceased in 2013, although two cases featuring Horizon evidence were prosecuted in 2015.

Group Civil Litigation

Group civil litigation between Post Office and 555 mainly former postmasters concluded following successful mediation and agreed settlement in December 2019. A joint press statement was issued on 11 December 2019 by both parties involved in the litigation. The issues in the litigation were complex and involved contractual, operational and technical matters spanning around two decades. 

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