Bill advances to exonerate hundreds in Post Office Horizon scandal

'Their convictions wiped clean from the slate,' minister promises

The mass exoneration of wrongfully convicted Post Office managers caught up in the Horizon IT scandal has come a step closer in the UK after MPs passed the third stage of a government bill.

The latest stage of the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill passed unopposed last night as part of the government's plans to quash convictions and pay compensation to those affected by the controversial computer system.

Horizon is an EPOS and backend finance system for thousands of Post Office branches around the UK, first implemented by ICL, a UK technology company later bought by Fujitsu. From 1999 until 2015, 736 local branch managers were wrongfully convicted of fraud when errors in the system were to blame.

In December 2020, six former subpostmasters wrongfully prosecuted by the Post Office had their names formally cleared after the Court of Appeal quashed their criminal convictions. In April 2021, 39 further convictions were quashed, but many more cases, and the state of compensation, remain unresolved.

The new government legislation seeks to exonerate those convicted in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland after the Horizon software caused the impression money was missing at their branches.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch told MPs: "For the postmasters wrongly accused of, convicted, and punished for crimes they never committed, this bill means hard-won exoneration with their convictions wiped clean from the slate. A wrong is finally being put right."

She said postmasters would also receive compensation through the Horizon Conviction Redress Scheme, set to be run by the Department for Business and Trade.

However, she said the government wanted to avoid setting a precedent. "We have chosen this path because the sheer extent of the Post Office's prosecutorial misconduct is an affront to justice in and of itself. It demanded an exceptional response from the government."

Meanwhile, the public inquiry into the scandal, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British history, continues.

Last week, the inquiry heard how former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells blocked efforts to end prosecution of sub-postmasters. Speaking at the inquiry, Chris Aujard, a former Post Office lawyer, said the organization's executive committee was "in favor of ceasing prosecutions entirely" in 2013. However, Vennells said she advocated "limited prosecutorial activity."

After handing back a state honor following a TV drama detailing the scandal, Vennells apologized for "the devastation caused to the subpostmasters and their families," but reserved further comment until the completion of the inquiry.

The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill is now set to pass through the House of Lords, the UK's second chamber. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like