Post Office stripped of status as specialist reporting agency after Horizon scandal

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain said it had shown a ‘complete abdication of responsibility’

The Post Office has been stripped of its status as a specialist reporting agency in Scotland following the Horizon scandal.

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC, Scotland’s top law officer, said the move followed its “fundamental and sustained failures”. It means the Post Office will no longer be able to investigate and report allegations directly to the Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecution service.

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Addressing MSPs on Thursday, Ms Bain said: “I can confirm that because of its fundamental and sustained failures in connection with Horizon cases in Scotland, I’ve decided that Post Office Ltd is not fit to be a specialist reporting agency. It is therefore no longer able to investigate and report criminal allegations directly to the Crown, and it should now instead report any allegations of criminality to Police Scotland for them to investigate.”

Picture: James Manning/PA WirePicture: James Manning/PA Wire
Picture: James Manning/PA Wire

She later added: “There plainly was a complete abdication of the responsibility of the Post Office in the special status that they were given, which has resulted in the terrible consequences of these cases.”

Emergency legislation to exonerate victims of the Horizon scandal was introduced to the Scottish Parliament earlier this week. It will automatically quash relevant convictions, with victims then able to access the UK’s financial redress scheme.

Ms Bain previously told MSPs that “not every case involving Horizon evidence will be a miscarriage of justice and each case must be considered carefully and with regard to the law”. However, speaking in Holyrood on Thursday, she said this was not a comment on the concept of mass exoneration via legislation. She said her remarks had been “taken out of context”.

Elsewhere, Ms Bain said six Scottish cases had been quashed in the courts, with two before the Appeal Court. A further ten cases are being reviewed by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Four cases have been identified that were prosecuted after the Crown Office was made aware of potential issues with Horizon in 2013. All four involved Horizon evidence and guilty pleas, and one is now under review.

But Ms Bain said 11 cases were identified “in which prosecutors decided to suspend consideration of proceedings and thereafter take no further action”, adding: “This was as a direct result of their concerns with the accuracy of the Horizon system, and was consistent with the instruction to prosecutors to adopt a cautious approach.”

Cases relying on evidence from the Horizon system were discontinued in Scotland in 2015.

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Conservative MSP Russell Findlay said: “Following multiple Scottish Conservative requests, the Lord Advocate rightly returned to Parliament, but many questions remain unanswered. We still don’t know whether or not she believes in the legislation’s blanket exoneration of Horizon victims.

“Dithering SNP ministers also need to stop using the UK legislation as a phoney excuse to delay the Scottish Bill. They need to get on with it, for the sake of the Post Office victims. Former Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland was in charge during this mass miscarriage of justice and it is only right that he should also come to Parliament.”