During these hearings, there will be testimony from postmasters whose lives were profoundly affected by this scandal. This will make for uncomfortable listening, but if we are serious about righting the wrongs of the past, it is vital these voices are heard, lessons learned and compensation paid.
Firstly, I want to recognise how difficult it will be for affected postmasters to give this evidence. They have already endured much and there will be deeply distressing memories to raise. There will be emotionally troubling accounts on the impacts on their lives and their loved ones. Ultimately, we will hear how the Post Office was historically too insular and too remote. We got things wrong and we failed far too many of our dedicated postmasters. As today’s Chief Executive, I am sorry and determined to put this right. While we have made progress addressing the wrongs of the past, this work is not finished, and we cannot move forward until it is complete.
The Post Office is working closely with Sir Wyn Williams’ inquiry to ensure it gets to the bottom of what happened. The inquiry is a watershed and we must seize the opportunity to get it right. The Horizon prosecutions occurred over a long period and resulted in tens of millions of related documents, and there is much detail to be reviewed. We have already provided over three million documents to the inquiry and will continue to help redress the wrongs of the past.
As a business which is rooted in the communities we serve – from the Scottish Borders to the Highlands and Islands – we must rebuild trust with our postmasters and the public. We continue to focus on offering redress to those affected by this scandal. The overwhelming majority of the 73 people who have had their convictions overturned have now each received interim compensation payments of £100,000. In Scotland, prosecutions were undertaken by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Service and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is investigating potential miscarriages of justice. We are working with these bodies to ensure as much assistance as possible is provided.
Compensation is also being paid for historical financial shortfalls related to previous versions of Horizon - with a third of applicants already receiving their offer. We aim to have made nearly all offers by the end of the year as the independent panel assessing each case accelerates its important work.
Last month, it was announced that a new compensation scheme will be established to ensure those postmasters who brought group legal action to the High Court will receive the same level of compensation as those who claimed through the Historical Shortfall Scheme.
The compensation must be full, fair and final for those who have already suffered too much. However, we also need to accelerate the pace at which it is paid, and to this end we continue to urge government, who are the funders of the compensation, to help us reach agreement with the legal representatives of the postmasters so payments can be made as soon as possible.
But more than just righting the wrongs of the past, I have a responsibility to ensure that such things never happen again. We have made significant changes to the way the business works from top to bottom. For example, our board now has two non-executive director postmasters, elected by other postmasters. Their input is invaluable as we continue to ensure we respond effectively to the needs of our customers and their communities.
While I am pleased we have made progress, I recognise that there is still much to do and this week’s Scotland hearing is a moment for reflection. This scandal cannot be allowed to happen again and, as chief executive, my commitment is twofold; to right the wrongs of the past as expediently as possible and to ensure that Post Office is there for people in every community of Scotland.
Nick Read, Post Office chief executive officer