- By Vishala Sri-Pathma and Emma Simpson
- BBC news
The Metropolitan Police are investigating the Post Office over potential fraud committed during the Horizon IT scandal.
Over a 15-year period, more than 700 branch managers were convicted of false accounting, theft and fraud based on faulty software information.
This is considered the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.
Police are currently investigating possible fraud offenses arising from the prosecutions.
The Met Police said the potential offenses could relate to “money recovered from sub-postmasters as a result of prosecution or civil litigation”.
The force considered potential offenses of perjury and perverting the course of justice in relation to investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Post Office.
Two people were interviewed under caution but no one has been arrested since the investigation began in January 2020.
The Post Office previously said it encouraged “those who believe they have been wrongfully convicted, for whatever reason, to consider appealing”.
However, they added that it would be inappropriate to comment on any police investigation.
Show ‘restart full problem’
Between 1999 and 2015, more than 700 postmasters were prosecuted and convicted based on information from a faulty accounting system, Horizon, that made it appear money was missing.
Some postmasters were wrongly imprisoned, many were financially ruined and forced to declare bankruptcy, while others described being shunned by their communities after being convicted of scheme crimes. miscalculation and theft. Some have died since then.
To date, 93 convictions have been overturned and of those, only 27 have agreed to “full and final settlement agreements”.
According to the Post, some 54 cases resulted in convictions being upheld, people being denied permission to appeal, or people withdrawing from the process.
A public inquiry into the scandal is ongoing.
There has been widespread sympathy for the victims after the four-part mini-series Mr Bates vs the Post Office: The Real Story aired on ITV this week.
The film focuses on the story of postmaster Alan Bates, played by actor Toby Jones, who led and won a legal battle, paving the way for dozens of convictions to be overturned.
Neil Hudgell, executive chairman of Hudgells, one of the law firms representing the plaintiffs, said that the drama had helped encourage new cases to be brought.
“Majority [those 50 new enquiries]… were not prosecuted but lost their livelihoods and lost their homes,” he said.
“But there are a small number of convicted people who have come forward, a total of three at the moment, which is obviously a very small number compared to those who are still out there.”
He also told the BBC that one in three convicts had received inpatient psychiatric care.
Mr Hudgell said the film shed light on the psychological trauma experienced by sub-postmasters: “It brings great sympathy for these people, along with encouragement from their families.” family and talking with other postmasters who were on this journey, they found the courage to move forward.”
Alan Bates told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that his role in the mini-series had “made a huge difference to the campaign”. “It brings up the whole issue again.”
Mr Bates said the cast “really overcame the real heartbreak and abuse they endured over the years from the Post Office”.
Asked why he thought new cases had emerged since the program aired, Mr Bates said some people “just don’t know what has happened over the years with the campaign”.
“Some people get support from other victims by coming forward and being identified and that gives people the confidence to come forward.”
However, Mr Bates said: “The biggest problem with compensation is speeding up the bureaucracy that is delaying payments to all these people.
“They really had to light a fire under their officials to get this thing resolved,” Mr. Bates said, adding that about 60 to 70 plaintiffs died before receiving justice.
Actor Toby Jones told the Today program that when he read the script, he realized it was about “humble good people, just as surprised as audiences are now by what they face”.
“It’s very understandable,” Jones said. A computer system failed and as a result many people suffered and when they called the helpline, the helpline did not help them.”
“It did the opposite and started prosecuting them for fraud. It’s so simple that you think it can hardly be true.
“Alan undertook this enormous task of trying to unite disparate people who felt all isolated.
“The film takes off from there as the individuals become a chorus and they become unstoppable; this is what makes the film great.”
Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays Alan Bates’s partner Suzanne Sercombe in the show, said she was “completely overwhelmed” by the reaction to the show and the “outpouring of outrage over the scandal and hiding”.
“That’s more than any of us dared to hope would get the campaign going, but sometimes drama can do that. And now: JUSTICE for the thousands affected,” she wrote on Xformerly Twitter.
A number of financial compensation schemes have been set up to help those caught up in the scandal, although there are concerns about delays in payments.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told reporters on Friday: “It’s vital that everyone affected gets the support they need, which I’m pleased is happening and we will continue proceed as quickly as possible.”
A Post Office spokesperson said: “We fully share the public inquiry’s goals of getting to the truth about past errors and establishing accountability.
“The task of the inquiry is to reach independent conclusions after considering all the evidence on the matters they are looking at.”