The computer firm that built the faulty Horizon system which saw hundreds of Post Office workers jailed should pay up, ex-minister David Davis has said.

In the Commons, the Tory ex-minister said Fujitsu has ‘played a central role in this scandal’ and asked whether the company will be required to ‘meet some of the costs’.

Fujitsu is the company behind Horizon, the faulty IT system used by the Post Office, which saw more than 700 sub-postmasters wrongly prosecuted for crimes such as fraud. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak today moved to draw a line under decades of hell for the Post Office victims as he announced a new law to quash convictions and ‘right the wrongs’. 

In the Commons, Sir David said that it ‘looks as though the Government is responding correctly’ to ensure swift justice – but placed responsibility on Fujitsu to fork out. 

Sir David Davis (pictured) has said the computer firm that built the faulty Horizon system which saw hundreds of Post Office workers jailed should pay up 

A file image of the post office Fujitsu Horizon IT system from the year 2000

A file image of the post office Fujitsu Horizon IT system from the year 2000

He added: ‘Some of the victims I’ve spoken to say they need an individual exoneration rather than a grand pardon because they are understandably concerned of being bracketed with a very small number of people who will actually not be innocent. 

‘Will the Government accelerate the investigations to convict those who are really guilty of causing this scandal by perverting the course of justice?’ 

Postal services minister Kevin Hollinrake replied: ‘Of course we looked very carefully at the issue of individual exoneration. We didn’t see any way possible to do that without an exhaustive and time-consuming administrative process, which would add further burdens to the burdens people have already suffered during this process.’

Mr Hollinrake said the Government saw its approach as ‘very much as the lesser of two evils’, adding: ‘We are very keen to discuss mitigations and safeguards with other members of the House.’

In a moment many must have feared would never come, the Prime Minister today told the Commons that the government will take drastic action to ‘right the wrongs’ for the victims of the Post Office scandal. 

Describing the scandal as ‘one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history’, Mr Sunak said around 750 former postmasters will be able to sign simple declarations of innocence to be exonerated en masse.

Legislation will be introduced within weeks to enact the blanket overturning of convictions – which crucially clears names entirely, unlike a pardon.

That will unlock hundreds of millions of pounds in ‘life-changing’ compensation, potentially £600,000 each, which should be paid by the end of the year.

The extraordinary action by the government – following a public outcry sparked by the heart-rending ITV drama laying out the experiences of victims – came nearly 15 years after the flaws in Horizon accounting software started being exposed.

It represents a huge victory for the campaign headed by former postmaster Alan Bates – who is now being backed for an honour by Downing Street and Labour leader Keir Starmer. 

Member of Parliament Sir David Davis asks a question to Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake

Member of Parliament Sir David Davis asks a question to Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake

A new law to quash the convictions of around 700 Post Office scandal victims will be introduced, Rishi Sunak said today

A new law to quash the convictions of around 700 Post Office scandal victims will be introduced, Rishi Sunak said today

Mr Sunak said he was determined to 'right the wrongs of the past'

Mr Sunak said he was determined to ‘right the wrongs of the past’ 

Representatives of victims welcomed the step, although they warned that the detail of the scheme must be scrutinised. 

More than 700 Post Office branch managers were convicted after the faulty Fujitsu system made it look like money was missing from their shops.

So far just 93 have been able to clear their names in the courts, leaving hundreds unable to claim compensation.

Under normal circumstances, the Criminal Cases Review Commission would look at the individual convictions and potentially send them to the Court of Appeal, a glacial process.

Mr Sunak said the scandal had taken place ‘over decades’ and with ‘multiple people at fault’.

As the government made its move today:

  • Lib Dem leader Ed Davey faced more calls to quit over his handling of the saga as post office minister between 2010 and 2012;
  • The CPS revealed that it had been involved in around 20 prosecutions linked to Horizon evidence, although it is not clear how many dated from Keir Starmer’s time in charge; 
  • Downing Street said any action against Fujitsu will wait until the conclusion of the ongoing public inquiry, and the firm can continue to bid for government contracts;  
  • The PM’s press secretary said it is ‘hard to think of anyone more deserving of an honour’ than Alan Bates;
  • Labour described Mr Bates as a ‘hero’ and said a knighthood would be ‘entirely appropriate’;
  • Mr Bates, who is said to have refused an OBE while former Post Office boss Paula Vennells still held the CBE, played down the idea insisting it is ‘not about me’.  
Toby Jones as Alan Bates in the new series Mr Bates vs the Post Office

Toby Jones as Alan Bates in the new series Mr Bates vs the Post Office

Tory MP tells Ed Davey to ‘clear off’ 

Ed Davey was told to ‘clear off’ today as pressure builds over his handling of the Post Office scandal.

Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson used PMQs to highlight the Lib Dem leader’s role as postal services minister between 2010 and 2012.

Mr Anderson told the Commons: ‘During this scandal the leader of the Liberal Democrats was the minister in charge of the Post Office… this is the same Liberal Democrat leader who in the past has called for the resignation of over 30 prominent people in this country who have made mistakes in their job.

‘So does the Prime Minister agree with me that the leader of the Lib Dems should take his own advice and start by clearing his desk, clearing his diary, and clear off?’

Sir Ed was not at PMQs today due to family commitments. 

Mr Sunak told the Commons: ‘This is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history.

‘People who worked hard to serve their communities had their lives and their reputations destroyed through absolutely no fault of their own. The victims must get justice and compensation.’

He added: ‘We will make sure that the truth comes to light, we right the wrongs of the past and the victims get the justice they deserve.’

He added: ‘Today I can announce that we will introduce new primary legislation to make sure that those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal are swiftly exonerated and compensated.

‘We will also introduce a new up-front payment of £75,000 for the vital GLO (group litigation order) group of postmasters.’

Keir Starmer welcomed the announcement, while saying Labour would examine the detail. 

Answering an urgent question in the Commons after PMQs, postal services minister Mr Hollinrake acknowledged the Government’s plan would result in some people who actually did commit crimes having their convictions quashed and being able to claim compensation.

But he insisted it is the best way to swiftly address the injustice suffered by those caught up in the Horizon scandal who have seen ‘lives ruined by this brutal and arbitrary exercise of power’.

‘Some of those convictions will have relied on the evidence of the discredited Horizon system. Others will have been the result of appalling failures of the Post office’s investigation and prosecution functions,’ he said.

He said evidence from the public inquiry into the Post Office scandal showed ‘not only incompetence but malevolence in many of their actions’.

Under the plan, people convicted would have to sign a declaration form, they would then be eligible to have their convictions overturned and access an offer of £600,000 compensation – or potentially more if they go through a process to have their claims individually assessed.

He acknowledged the Government’s novel approach was not ‘foolproof’.

‘I’m sure that a great many people were wrongly convicted in this scandal, but I cannot tell the House that all those prosecuted were indeed innocent, or even that it was 90 per cent or 80 per cent or 70 per cent, without retrying every case we cannot know.

‘The risk is that instead of unjust convictions, we shall end up with unjust acquittals and we just do not know how many.’

No10 and Labour back honour for campaigner Alan Bates 

Demands for Alan Bates to receive a knighthood for his decades-long fight for justice for subpostmasters hit by the Horizon scandal has received backing from Downing Street.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokeswoman said on Wednesday it would be ‘common sense’ to honour the crusading former subpostmaster after a mass quashing of convictions was announced.

Mr Bates is said to have refused an OBE while former Post Office boss Paula Vennells still held the CBE she received deep into the scandal in 2019.

But MPs and campaigners have called for Mr Bates’s honour to be re-submitted now that Ms Vennells has agreed to relinquish hers in the face of a public outcry.

Senior minister Esther McVey said she wants to see Mr Bates knighted ‘as soon as possible’.

‘Anybody can nominate him and I’m quite sure we will see Sir Alan as soon as possible,’ the Tory MP told GB News.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary argued that it is ‘hard to think of someone more deserving of being rewarded through the honours system than him’.

Asked if she agreed about the knighthood with Ms McVey, who is nicknamed the ‘minister for common sense’, the official said: ‘That sounds like common sense to me.’

But Mr Bates was focussing on continuing his fight for justice rather than securing himself plaudits.

‘It’s not about me, it’s about the whole group and it’s about getting this money out to people as soon as possible so they can try and get on with their lives and try and put this behind them,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme.

But political support for the honour crossed political lines, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also backing the move.

His spokesman said: ‘I think Alan Bates clearly has emerged as a hero throughout this for the way in which he has led the campaign, the fortitude and resolve he was shown given everything that has been thrown at him throughout this process.

‘Obviously honours have their own independent process, but I’m sure that is something the public would regard as entirely appropriate and we would support.’

He added: ‘As far as possible, we want to avoid guilty people walking away with hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money. But we cannot make the provision of compensation subject to a detailed examination of guilt.’

As a safeguard, postmasters will sign a statement saying they did not commit the crime of which they were accused, with anyone subsequently found to have signed that untruthfully putting themselves at risk of prosecution for fraud.

Conservative MP Duncan Baker, who used to work as a postmaster, said the Post Office should be forced to reveal how much money they ‘stole’ from ‘innocent men and women’.

The North Norfolk MP told the Commons: ‘One question that has never been answered is just how much money was taken unlawfully from thousands of innocent men and women. The Post Office took that money, we have never known that figure.

‘Even the most basic accountant knows that it will run into hundreds of millions of pounds. So could the minister find out from the Post Office, force them to publish, just the grand scale of how much money they stole from people?’

Mr Hollinrake said he will ‘endeavour to find out the number’.

Labour former minister Kevan Jones, a long-term campaigner on the Horizon scandal, said: ‘‘This is going to be messy whichever way we do it, but it needs to be done because we’ve still got people out there with those convictions that need overturning.’

Mr Hollinrake said once the statutory inquiry has reported then the Government will be able to ‘assess more clearly who is actually responsible’ before noting: ‘We think it’s right we follow a process, identify individuals or organisations who are responsible for this scandal. Of course, those organisations we would expect then to financially contribute.

‘So there are financial and legal measures we can take. As regard individuals, it may well be there’s sufficient evidence for the authorities to take forward individual prosecutions and I think many in this House would welcome that.’

Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, who represent a number of subpostmasters, said: ‘We very much welcome the Government’s pledge to exonerate and compensate all the innocent victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal, made in Parliament by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak today.’

‘Whilst some of the pledges appear hugely positive, the finer detail of how this will be achieved is key.

‘Having supported subpostmasters for the past three-and-a-half years, we have seen how this scandal has impacted on each and every victim, and their wider families, in different ways, and how it continues to impact on them today.

‘We must be careful not to give them false hope from political promises only for them to be let down again.

‘Our clients await the review of the finer detail that sits behind these proposals with considerable interest.’

Senior judges apparently did not raised any ‘significant challenges’ during talks with Justice Secretary Alex Chalk yesterday on measures to fast track the process of exonerating victims.

A new law to quash the convictions of around 700 Post Office scandal victims could be announced as early as today (file picture)

A new law to quash the convictions of around 700 Post Office scandal victims could be announced as early as today (file picture)

In a round of interviews this morning, postal services minister Kevin Hollinrake said a blanket exoneration of convictions would be a 'very significant step', but the government recognised the scale of the miscarriage of justice

In a round of interviews this morning, postal services minister Kevin Hollinrake said a blanket exoneration of convictions would be a ‘very significant step’, but the government recognised the scale of the miscarriage of justice

Mr Bates Vs the Post Office has sparked huge public fury about the Horizon Post Office scandal

Mr Bates Vs the Post Office has sparked huge public fury about the Horizon Post Office scandal 

Some senior lawyers yesterday raised concerns about the precedent that might be set by Parliament directly overturning court rulings.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve described the idea as a ‘parliamentary interference in the judicial process of our country’ while former Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas told the BBC there was a ‘real chance’ that blanket legislation could result in some genuinely guilty people being cleared.

But two former justice secretaries said the scale of the miscarriage of justice justified exceptional measures.

Sir Robert Buckland called for legislation to bring justice to ‘the victims and their families’.

Ex-postmasters reveal how their lives were destroyed by Horizon scandal 

Former postmasters wrongly accused of crimes they did not commit today bravely told their stories for the first time amid mounting fury over the Post Office scandal that blighted the lives of hundreds of innocent people.

Appearing on BBC Breakfast, nine victims of the scandal revealed how their lives and livelihoods were destroyed by the widest miscarriage of justice in British history. 

Speaking on the BBC Breakfast today, former postmaster Tom Hedges said: ‘I have been looking forward to this day.

‘I ran a Post Office at Hogsthorpe, eight miles out of Skegness. I was there for 16 years until I was dismissed in 2009 and convicted in court in 2010.

‘I had to wait a number of years until 2021 when my conviction was overturned and frankly it wrecked my life, my family’s life and everyone I knows life. It was the most horrendous thing I’ve ever been through.

Postmasters come together on BBC Breakfast to discuss the Horizon scandal and the impact it had on them

Postmasters come together on BBC Breakfast to discuss the Horizon scandal and the impact it had on them 

Nine victims of the scandal revealed how their lives and livelihoods were destroyed by the widest miscarriage of justice in British history

Nine victims of the scandal revealed how their lives and livelihoods were destroyed by the widest miscarriage of justice in British history

Former postmaster Maria from Huddersfield said it was the first time she felt strong enough to talk publicly about what happened

Former postmaster Maria from Huddersfield said it was the first time she felt strong enough to talk publicly about what happened

Janet Skinner worked for the Post Office from 1994 until she was suspended in 2006 for a shortfall of £59,000 and given a custodial sentence - three months in prison and the rest on home curfew

Janet Skinner worked for the Post Office from 1994 until she was suspended in 2006 for a shortfall of £59,000 and given a custodial sentence – three months in prison and the rest on home curfew

Tom Hedges ran a Post Office in Hogsthorpe near Skegness and said he waited a number of years until 2021 when his conviction was overturned

Tom Hedges ran a Post Office in Hogsthorpe near Skegness and said he waited a number of years until 2021 when his conviction was overturned

Mohammed Russell was convicted of false accounting by the Post Office and had to wear a tag for three months and had a suspended sentence for 12 months and said he carried the shame ever since, but refuses to carry it any longer

Mohammed Russell was convicted of false accounting by the Post Office and had to wear a tag for three months and had a suspended sentence for 12 months and said he carried the shame ever since, but refuses to carry it any longer

Scott Darlington ran Alderley Edge Post Office and said he couldn't get a job for three and a half years after his conviction

Scott Darlington ran Alderley Edge Post Office and said he couldn’t get a job for three and a half years after his conviction

‘I feel very privileged to sit here this morning and address the nation because of the wonderful TV show that ITV have produced.

‘I do feel that story has dragged us right on the top of the media agenda.’ 

Mohammed Russell worked for the Post Office for 27 years before he was convicted of false accounting and had to wear a tag for three months and had a suspended sentence for 12 months.

He said: ‘I have carried the shame ever since, I refuse to carry it any longer.’

Scott Darlington, who ran Alderley Edge Post Office for four years before he was convicted, said: ‘I couldn’t get a job for three and a half years after that. 

‘I couldn’t afford to pay for my daughter’s school uniform. I suffered awful stigma and embarrassment and financial distress ever since and I’m glad things have come to a head and we are able to speak about it now.’

Janet Skinner worked for the Post Office from 1994 until 2006 when she was suspended for a shortfall of £59,000. She was given a nine months custodial sentence, seed three months in prison and the rest on home curfew.

She said: ‘Its affected everything in my life going forward for the last 16 years.’

Alison Harl ran a Post Office in High Town, Liversidge, West Yorkshire, until she was suspended in 2010 for a shortfall of nearly £15,000. Alison admitted to a false accounting charge which was overturned three years ago.

Varchas Patel spoke on behalf of his father Vippen Patel from Oxford who was wrongly prosecuted in 2011 and said his father’s health was ‘shattered’ – he is yet to receive compensation.

Tim Brentnall ran a Post Office in Pembrokeshire in 2005 until a shortfall was found in 2009 which he was forced to pay back, some £22,500. He was prosecuted for false accounting until his conviction was quashed in 2021.

He said: ‘My life was left in tatters and my customers and villagers thought I was a fraud.’

Sally Stringer who ran a rural Post Office in Beckford said she was ‘fortunate’ that she wasn’t convicted and had to use her own money to pay for all the shortfalls.

She is working to get justice for postmasters and said: ‘We need to have the monies that were paid to the Post Office put back to the postmasters.’

It comes after a former postmaster has revealed he tried to take his own life three times after being accused of stealing thousands from the Post Office.

Parmod Kalia gave the Post Office £22,000 of his own money to balance his books after the faulty Horizon software made it look like money was missing from the accounts.

But despite this, he was still wrongly convicted of stealing and sent to prison for six months in 2001.

Parmod Kalia gave the Post Office £22,000 of his own money to balance his books after the faulty Horizon software made it look like money was missing from the accounts

Parmod Kalia gave the Post Office £22,000 of his own money to balance his books after the faulty Horizon software made it look like money was missing from the accounts

It was revealed on Good Morning Britain today that Mr Kalia has had the last 21 years of his life taken from him as a result of the scandal, which caused a breakdown in his relationship with his family and led to him being shunned from his community.

He told ITV: ‘Its destroyed me mentally, I have just cooped it up within myself – a buildup of not knowing what it was, no one to talk to, no one to discuss it with.

‘I have lost 21 years of my life, no earning capacity. I have had a breakdown with my family, my wife, my children, shame in the community.

‘I have attempted suicide on three occasions, it’s that as well.’

More than 700 Post Office branch managers were given criminal convictions after faulty Fujitsu accounting software called Horizon made it appear as though money was missing from their shops

More than 700 Post Office branch managers were given criminal convictions after faulty Fujitsu accounting software called Horizon made it appear as though money was missing from their shops

Whitehall sources said plans were being finalised and would be published this week, detailing measures to fast track the process of exonerating more than 700 victims of the Post Office scandal. 

More than 700 Post Office branch managers were convicted after faulty Fujitsu accounting software called Horizon made it look like money was missing from their shops. 

So far just 93 have been able to clear their names in the courts, leaving hundreds unable to claim compensation. 

Under normal circumstances, the Criminal Cases Review Commission would look at the individual convictions and potentially send them to the Court of Appeal, a glacial process.

But Government sources said that the unprecedented scale of the Horizon scandal could require the extraordinary step of blanket legislation to clear the names of those affected. Mr Chalk said there were ‘truly exceptional circumstances’.

Meanwhile, former Post Office boss Paula Vennells yesterday announced she was handing back her CBE with ‘immediate effect’ after more than 1 million people signed a petition calling for her honour to be revoked.

Ms Vennells oversaw the organisation while it routinely denied there were problems with its Horizon IT system. 

Post Office boss Paula Vennells yesterday announced she was handing back her CBE with 'immediate effect' after more than 1 million people signed a petition calling for her honour to be revoked

Post Office boss Paula Vennells yesterday announced she was handing back her CBE with ‘immediate effect’ after more than 1 million people signed a petition calling for her honour to be revoked

Ms Vennells oversaw the organisation while it routinely denied there were problems with its Horizon IT system

Ms Vennells oversaw the organisation while it routinely denied there were problems with its Horizon IT system

The petition, addressed to Sir Chris Wormald, the chair of the Forfeiture Committee, says: ‘Evidence has been produced that the Post Office engaged in a mass cover up which led to the wrongful prosecution of 550 Post Office Staff many of whom were subsequently jailed, bankrupted and in some cases, sadly took their own lives.

‘Having been handed a CBE for services to the Post Office, and moved out into other senior positions in government and healthcare, it is only right that this award is now withdrawn through the process of forfeiture.’

Mr Sabet, who was diagnosed with severe PTSD and has suffered heart problems since his wrongful conviction, says the ordeal has taken years off his life and said it’s ‘about time’ Ms Vennells handed back her CBE.

The father-of-one admitted to stealing more than £50,000 after being told he would likely be sent to prison if he denied the theft.

Sami Sabet, a former sub-postmaster who owned three Post Offices and was wrongly convicted of stealing over £50,000

Sami Sabet, a former sub-postmaster who owned three Post Offices and was wrongly convicted of stealing over £50,000

Mr Sabet, who was diagnosed with severe PTSD and has suffered heart problems since his wrongful conviction, says the ordeal has taken years off his life and said it's 'about time' Ms Vennells handed back her CBE

Mr Sabet, who was diagnosed with severe PTSD and has suffered heart problems since his wrongful conviction, says the ordeal has taken years off his life and said it’s ‘about time’ Ms Vennells handed back her CBE

Paula Vennells pictured at a Select Committee hearing about the Post Office Horizon scandal

Paula Vennells pictured at a Select Committee hearing about the Post Office Horizon scandal

Mr Sabet wants to see Vennells dragged through the courts like he was

Mr Sabet wants to see Vennells dragged through the courts like he was

Mr Sabet, an ex-engineer who was forced to take up jobs cleaning toilets in petrol stations after his wrongful conviction, says it’s ‘about time’ Ms Vennells handed back her CBE.

However, the former postmaster also wants to see those in charge at the Post Office at the time of the scandal hauled in front of a Crown Court judge and branded criminals, just as he and his colleagues were.

‘I think it’s absolutely the right thing for Paula Vennells to hand back her CBE,’ he said.

‘It took the drama on TV and the petition the public submitted to force her to go. She should have done it much earlier.

‘I wonder if this will be enough for the sub-postmasters who were convicted during her rein?

‘It’s about time. They treated us like criminals, they called us criminals – but they are the criminals.

‘I couldn’t get a good job because I was a criminal, couldn’t insure my home because I was a criminal; people didn’t want to know you anymore because you’re a criminal.

‘Yet none of the bosses have been held accountable until now.

‘I want to see those people suffer and put in front of a judge like we were, to suffer what we felt.

‘I would like the Post Office to pay a lot so this never happens again.

‘It’s not right… It’s unbelievable. We are the victims and yet still the Post Office is in control.’

On the experience of being accused of being a criminal and having his name dragged through the mud, Mr Sabet said: ‘It was absolutely torturous. It has taken about five years off my life, maybe more.

‘It was like a pre-meditated murder from the Post Office. They knew what they were doing and some of us actually died.

‘I want the proper and real compensation. I want to be able to live now as I would have been able to before.

‘Somebody has to feel what we felt. Somebody has to be held to account.

‘There were people in charge before Paula Vennells who knew what was going on… What about them?

‘They continue to destroy our lives and they should be brought to justice and made to feel all of the things we felt.’

Though he hasn’t yet watched the ITV dramatisation of the Post Office scandal he lived through, Mr Sabet praised the TV show Mr Bates vs The Post Office for bringing the public’s attention to his and his cohort’s plight.

‘I think it’s great,’ he said. ‘It has caused outrage with everybody and everybody’s talking about it.

‘More people seem to understand and sympathise with what we went through and even Rishi Sunak has stepped in.’

But despite his desire to see justice finally served after all these years, Mr Sabet, worries his ill health – brought on by the stress of his ordeal – may mean he never lives to see the culmination of the scandal.

‘I’m worried I won’t see justice before I die,’ he admitted.

‘A lot of former postmasters have already died before they even knew what they were going to get. Some died with their names still not having been cleared.

Mr Sabet was handed a suspended sentence of one year in prison and ordered to complete 180 hours of community service at Lewes Crown Court in 2009, after pleading guilty to stealing more than £100,000 from the Post Office in a bid to avoid jail.

‘I was absolutely terrified of going to prison. I didn’t know what would happen to my wife and daughter.

‘People looked at me as a criminal who stole people’s money from the Post Office. They crossed the street to avoid me. It was incredible.’

Mr Sabet estimates that he lost around £2.8 million from his three Post Offices in Shoreham and Brighton.

Some senior lawyers yesterday raised concerns about the precedent that might be set by Parliament directly overturning court rulings.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve described the idea as a ‘parliamentary interference in the judicial process of our country’ while former Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas told the BBC there was a ‘real chance’ that blanket legislation could result in some genuinely guilty people being cleared.

But two former justice secretaries said the scale of the miscarriage of justice justified exceptional measures.

Former subpostmaster Lee Castleton spoke top BBC Radio 4 today about how he was pursued and bankrupted by the Post Office.

He said: ‘I didn’t suspect the computer at all at first, I suspected myself personally.

‘It was such a rounded figure, quite large, I suspected I had put something in the wrong column or I had miscounted something and I really did believe when I rang the helpline and explained, I believed what they told me which was ‘don’t worry it’ll come back, you’ll be able to find it and there’ll be no problem.”

Mr Castleton made 91 phone calls over 12 weeks because he didn’t want to accept that the misbalance was going to correct itself.

‘The numbers just got more and more random. There were huge swings in £6,000 loss and then £1500 gains – all kinds of different swings week to week which were just inexplicable really.

‘After a few weeks of sleepless nights and spending many many hours going through the paperwork looking for reasons why, begging people to come and look, I really did feel that if someone came to the office and I could show them the paperwork that I had and explain the situation that we would be able to find a remedy and why this was occurring.

‘But Post Office were absolutely hellbent in not helping me and I realise that now more than ever and at the time I felt as if I wasn’t explaining it properly and that people didn’t really understand the severity of where I was finding myself. I really had nothing to hide.’

Mr Castleton asked for an audit which happened on March 23, 2004 which found a £25,500 deficit. He was then suspended while the Post Office attempted to recover what they thought they had lost.

After refusing to pay back the £25,500 – adamant he was not going to give back money he didn’t owe – he was dismissed altogether and taken to court by the Post Office to recoup the loss. 

That decision set in motion a catastrophic chain of events. When the Post Office legal team failed to show up for the initial hearing in Scarborough, judgment was made in Lee’s favour. Yet the Post Office was determined to overturn that ruling, and took Lee to the High Court. 

With no income and little in the way of savings, Lee had no option but to represent himself. He spent every waking hour ‘buried in paperwork’, working late into the night to try to establish what could possibly have gone wrong, stymied by the fact that not all transactions were available to him as only the Post Office had some of the dates. 

Sir Robert Buckland called for legislation to bring justice to ‘the victims and their families’.

He said: ‘There should be legislation to deal with the convictions of this huge class of people who are not just not guilty, but victims.’

Former Labour justice secretary Lord Falconer said there would be ‘no resistance in Parliament’ to an emergency law. 

‘It will take years to get rid of those other convictions unless there is a change in procedure,’ he added. 

Sir Bob Neill, head of the Commons justice committee, said handling the cases through the appeals procedure would ‘place exceptional and unprecedented strains on the appeal system and the criminal justice system’.

He also called for the Post Office to lose its right to bring prosecutions without oversight from the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Chalk held talks on the issue with senior members of the judiciary yesterday. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman later said he was ‘not aware of any significant challenges being raised’ during the discussions, clearing the way for ministers to act.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake said the Government wanted to pursue a ‘collective exoneration’ as many convicted postmasters had lost faith in the justice system and were reluctant to challenge their convictions.

He said the statutory inquiry will report by the end of the year and people can then be held to account once it is known who is responsible.

Mr Hollinrake said it was ‘certainly possible’ that some individuals are guilty of criminal offences and that action should be taken where there is evidence of that.

Kevin Hollinrake, the Minister for the Post Office, making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons, London, on Horizon compensation and convictions

Mr Hollinrake, the Minister for the Post Office making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons, London, on Horizon compensation and convictions

‘We have written to all the people with convictions to say ‘Please come forward’,’ he said. ‘We hope that making it easier to overturn a conviction and… access compensation will encourage more people to come forward.’

He said more postmasters had come forward following ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office, which put the issue at the top of the political agenda.

Mr Hollinrake said former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells has done the ‘right thing’ by handing back her CBE in the wake of renewed focus on the Horizon scandal.

He refused to be drawn on whether she should return her bonuses from the role, saying he did not agree with ‘trial by media’.

‘She’s done the right thing… What I don’t think is right is that we have sort of trial by media on this,’ the minister told Times Radio.

Fears were raised yesterday that more subpostmasters could have taken their own lives in the Horizon scandal after Richard Madeley claimed that another Post Office worker killed himself after he was wrongly accused of stealing £20,000.

The Good Morning Britain presenter said he was sending a recorded delivery letter at his local Post Office yesterday, when he got chatting to the subpostmaster behind the counter.

He told ITV co-star Susanna Reid: ‘I said ‘how was the drama for you?’ and she burst into tears. ‘She told me her story – and I won’t say exactly where it was – but she said a cousin of hers killed himself after being accused of stealing £20,000 from the Post Office.’

Prior to Madeley’s revelation, there were four known suicides linked to the Horizon scandal.

Among those who have taken their own lives is Martin Griffiths, who was falsely suspected of stealing money from a Post Office in Ellesmere Port where he had worked for around 20 years.

His family said he delved into his own savings and those of his parents to pay back around £60,000 he was wrongly suspected of taking from the branch. The turmoil lasted for four years, between 2009 and 2013, and had a huge impact on his physical and mental health. 

Martin Griffiths, 59, took his own life in 2013 after he was falsely suspected of stealing money from a Post Office in Ellesmere Port

Fiona McGowan, pictured, was charged with false accounting over £30,000 that went 'missing' from her Edinburgh branch

Mr Griffiths and Ms McGowan both took their own lives after they were accused of stealing money from the Post Office

Devon postmaster Peter Huxham died in a suspected suicide in July 2020 after being jailed for eight months over a £16,000 shortfall

Devon postmaster Peter Huxham died in a suspected suicide in July 2020 after being jailed for eight months over a £16,000 shortfall

In 2013, Mr Griffiths parked his car on the A41 in Ellesmere Port after leaving a note for his loved ones and took his own life.

Mother-of-two Fiona McGowan also took her own life after she and partner Phil Cowan, were accused of stealing £30,000 from her Edinburgh post office.

Ms McGowan was 47 when she overdosed on alcohol and antidepressants in 2009. Her sons were 12 and 14.

Her partner Phil told The Sunday Post: ‘Fiona may well be still alive today if she had not been facing court for false accusations of theft and died before clearing her name.’

Devon postmaster Peter Huxham died in a suspected suicide in July 2020 after being jailed for eight months over a £16,000 shortfall. In that time, his marriage had fallen apart and he had been battling alcoholism.

Recording an open conclusion, assistant coroner Stephen Covell said: ‘It is unfortunately rather an unsatisfactory state of affairs that I cannot give any helpful conclusions as to the precise circumstances of Peter’s death. He lived alone and died some weeks previously, and as a result his body was badly decomposed and it was not possible to give a cause of death. There were no suspicious circumstances.’

And postmaster’s wife Louise Mann killed herself after wrongful allegations of theft.

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local branch or go to www.samaritans.org 

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