Like everyone up and down the country I am appalled by the Post Office scandal and what postmasters and mistresses were subjected to. This has been a terrible injustice.
I spoke with the Prime Minister at the weekend and made clear what measures I believe need actioning immediately. As Cabinet Office Minister I will be working with him and ministerial colleagues for a fast resolution.
As I write this, the Justice Secretary and Post Office Minister are meeting to set out the steps that needs to be taken.
These people were victims of a faulty computer system, they lost their homes, livelihoods, life savings, reputations and for some the pressure was so much they took their own lives.
The human cost of this scandal can never be made good, but to go some way to help the many victims, there are things that must be done.
Firstly, I want to see convictions overturned. Of the more than 700 branch managers that were convicted of false accounting, theft or fraud fewer than 100 have had their convictions quashed. Some of these cases date back to 1999. We know these convictions were the result of faulty software – it has been proven and is without doubt and people must be exonerated.
I do not believe any of these cases – or certainly the vast majority of them – would have reached court if it the Crown Prosecution Service and Police has been involved in the investigations. Instead, the Post Office chose to use private prosecutions and pursued innocent people aggressively through the courts in an attempt to protect the integrity of their computer system. The Post Office must be stripped of its right to be involved in prosecutions and take people to court – it is an archaic system.
We also need to ensure compensation is paid out as quickly as possible. There are three schemes which have paid out more than £130 million so far to 2,500 victims and it was recently announced £600,000 will be awarded to each victim. I want to see this expedited and information on details on when these payments will be made.
I am pleased former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells has made a statement saying she will hand back her CBE. This is something I called for and it is the right thing to do.