Farron: Victims of Post Office scandal need compensation, not being weaponised by the Tories

The ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office has highlighted the dreadful injustice suffered by so many sub postmasters, as John Barrett outlined yesterday.

I haven’t seen it yet, but I know it will be very uncomfortable to watch. Yet again in my lifetime, something has gone very wrong with a public service and it takes too long for the victims to be taken seriously. Windrush, Hillsborough, numerous health scandals are just a handful of others. Government needs to find a way of being much quicker to react when things go wrong and not just dismiss concerns until they are forced to deal with them, usually with the involvement of the judicial system.

We’ve seen several instances in the past few days of right wing commentators (former Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie, not known for his listening to people complaining of injustice) among them have decided that this is a good opportunity to have a go at the Lib Dem ministers responsible for the postal service who were in office rather than talk about a way forward.

A letter from Ed Davey saying that he didn’t see what a meeting with the sub postmasters would achieve is being circulated. It’s dated 21st May 2010, which is a few days after he became a Minister. He actually did meet them in October of that year.

In the Guardian this week, Ed was reported as saying that he regretted not doing more when he was a Minister, honesty which is perhaps refreshing in an environment where people try to deflect blame on to others.

Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “I feel that I was deeply misled by Post Office executives … they didn’t come clean. There were definitely attempts to stop me meeting [campaigners].

“We were clearly misled. I think ministers from all political parties were misled.”

In terms of what happens next he said:

Davey said Post Office executives were now “dragging their feet” and “not bringing evidence to the inquiry”.

He added: “Government ministers need to do more – I hope they watch this series and realise they’ve got to come forward with a proper compensation package.”

In an interview on BBC Breakfast on Thursday morning Alan Bates was given many opportunities to stick the boot in to Ed specifically by the interviewer and didn’t take the chance  to single him out.

Tim Farron took to Twitter last night to make some observations about the scandal, the current Tory blame game and what should happen next.

He said:

The Post Office Horizon scandal is an appalling miscarriage of justice. It is utterly gutting to see so many families’ lives destroyed. It’s awful to see the Conservative Party weaponising this tragedy to distract from their failure to get compensation to the victims quickly.

Over 25 years, the public and Ministers of all parties have been misled by the Post Office. In October 2010, Ed Davey became the first Minister on the record to meet with Alan Bates – seven years and five ministers after Bates’ first contact with a minister.

Ed has said how much he regrets that the Post Office was lying to him, just like it was to everyone else. He’s experienced more than his fair share of tragedy in his life, I know he feels the pain of those affected by this scandal very deeply.

Once the truth finally started to come out thanks to the sub-postmasters’ court cases and a whistleblower coming forward, Ed, myself and other MPs joined campaigners in calling for a full, independent, statutory inquiry into the scandal – even as Conservative Ministers refused

What we need now is to get to the bottom of this, make sure the Post Office executives responsible are held to account, and give sub-postmasters and their families the compensation they deserve. Not to lob around lies and smears like this is another game of political football.

We know that postmasters waited too long for justice and the only way they got it in the end was to take expensive legal action. This was not as it should have been. Those responsible for this failure primarily come from the Post Office who were not being as open as they should have been about the failures of the Horizon system.

The lesson for all ministers and senior civil servants of the present and future is to dig a lot deeper when – and there will be a next time – there are complaints that something has gone seriously wrong. We need to make sure that the least powerful in a situation have a voice and a route to getting their claims properly investigated before many lives are irrevocably damaged. Intelligent discussion around this is needed, not a politically motivated blame game.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Adrian Sanders 7th Jan '24 - 11:23am

    The first prosecution was in 2000 and over 23 years and many PO Ministers later, only one is facing the spotlight in the right and left wing media when his tenure was just 2 of those 23. That tells you something about how the other parties fear us affecting the election result.

    With the greatest respect to Tim, when a software company says their expensive and complicated system works, a PO management confirms it is happy, and a civil servant who is unlikely to be a software expert reports back to a Minister that all is well, are we really expecting Ministers to question in detail every brief they are given, do they even have the time and professional support to do that? The question we should be asking is where was the oversight on the number of prosecutions for the same offence, and a reporting mechanism to highlight inconsistencies to Ministers.

  • David Allen 7th Jan '24 - 12:44pm

    Here’s what looks like a thorough and objective review of the Post Office scandal. The performance of Ed Davey, and of two other Lib Dem ministers, is described as “uninspiring”. Five responsible Tory junior ministers are similarly criticised for their inaction. However, most of the blame is, of course, placed on the Post Office itself.


    So, unfair for the Tory Press to single out Ed Davey? A definite yes.

    Lib Dems come out of this smelling of roses? Sorry, no.

  • Peter Martin 7th Jan '24 - 12:57pm

    The scandal of the PO Horizon system goes much deeper than has been mentioned so far.

    Our adversarial based justice system clearly failed to identify the flaws in the Horizon accountancy system. To have done so successfully would have required the defence in the earliest cases to have been able to afford to call upon the relevant expertise in the industry. If this would ever have been possible at one time, it hasn’t been possible after the cuts made to the legal aid system. As a result, mistake has been piled upon mistake with some 700+ convictions being secured purely on the say so of the Post Office and the Fujitsu computer company.

    Juries should not be asked to deliver verdicts on matters which are way above their level of competency to decide. Courts should adopt a more inquisitorial approach. Experts shouldn’t be paid for by either the prosecution or the defence but by the courts themselves. As evidence becomes more technical in many trials: DNA, fraud, medical etc, justice is clearly not served when trial outcomes are determined by partisan expert testimony especially when this is unaffordable by most defendants.

  • For me – the scandal isn’t the bugs in the computer system but the bugs in the legal system that meant that it failed over and over again to reach the correct verdict. Noone is doing anything to fix the bugs in the legal system

  • It’s worth pointing out that since the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, there is a presumption in UK law that computer systems are working correctly unless there is evidence to the contrary. In other words, there is no requirement for the prosecution to prove that computer evidence is accurate – the burden is on the defence to prove otherwise. In practice, this is virtually impossible for most defendants.

    This change to the law was introduced as it was considered to much of a burden (and too difficult) for prosecutors to prove accuracy every time. Yet since 1999, computer systems are now significantly more complex and pervasive in our lives, and defendants have no chance of being able to afford the level of expert analysis that would be necessary to prove the software is faulty, particularly if you are affected by a rare “corner case” fault.

    In the Horizon case, it was only the persistence of Alan Bates coupled with the sheer number of prosecutions that eventually caused things to be re-examined, after far too many lives were ruined.

  • Peter Chambers 7th Jan '24 - 7:17pm

    It may be that in certain *regulated* applications that the correct operation of a system has to be certified by a responsible mind in an operating organisation. It may become needed for liability insurance eventually. Banking is an obvious case, as is aviation, nuclear safety, critical infrastructure and others.
    This would contrast with the weekly Patch Tuesday approach of updating computer systems in a “new bugs for old” way. Currently commercial pressures act against this.

  • David Evans 7th Jan '24 - 8:24pm

    Indeed Nick, the law is an ass. Having worked in technical computer audit for over 20 years for a bank, I can unequivocally say that no large computer system can ever be claimed to work correctly 100% of the time. In particular, most are being changed and updated to adapt to new requirements so often, they all have a significant number of outstanding bugs that need to be resolved.

    Just consider a computer based electoral system whose results could not be challenged. Would we accept that? Actually, in recent years, a lot of posters here have indicated that they would.

    To me of course it would be naively silly to do so. For example, imagine a US president unseated because of an allegedly faulty computerised vote counting system. Oh wait a minute …

  • Neil Hickman 7th Jan '24 - 9:08pm

    There is a principle in the law of evidence called “similar fact evidence” – if something happens once it may be an accident or a tragedy; if it happens several times that may be evidence of something nasty going on. Google “Brides in the Bath”. Three drowned brides sent George Joseph Smith to the gallows.
    Several hundred impeccably respectable people having unexplained shortfalls on their accounts with none of them having unexplained credits appearing in their bank accounts – oh, that was just “people trying to leap on the Horizon bashing bandwagon”.
    The determination of senior people at the Post Office to mislead the courts into believing that they were dealing with single instances appears to me to have been a far worse perversion of justice than anything Chris Huhne did. And we’ll believe this is being taken seriously when some senior people start going to jail for substantial periods.
    And yes, this buck stops with senior Post Office executives and lawyers. The fault did not lie with ministers of any party.

  • Oliver Leonard 7th Jan '24 - 10:32pm

    We all know the Tories and Labour to lesser extent will be rubbing their hands at this, I just wish he’d come out and say something hopefully we’ll hear more tomorrow.

  • The key thing I want to know is exactly when the Post Office stopped prosecuting people because they thought they were guilty, and started using the criminal justice system to “protect the brand”. Or perhaps more accurately, to avoid having to accept that Horizon was the problem and shut down thousands of post offices for weeks or months while the tried to sort it out. From that time onward the Post Office was criminally liable for perverting the course of justice, and there are probably dozens or hundreds of people who should be going to jail, starting with Paula Kennels.

  • Philip Knight 8th Jan '24 - 9:25am

    Weaponisation or not I think that this is hugely damaging to Ed Davey. You simply can’t have the job title that specifically includes the Post Office and then just blame others for misleading you. The whole point of being at the top is to filter out the BS. Quite apart from anything else he should have been on the front foot on this matter years ago when it became an issue an appreciated that he might come under the spotlight. Commenting about it now he is facing criticism is so amateurish and, whilst I hate myself for saying it, a bit typical of our party.

  • Simon Croft 8th Jan '24 - 11:13am

    I agree that the conservatives are rubbing their hands in glee at the opportunity to bash Ed Davey.
    I think Ed needs to go further in condemning the fiction that is commercial separation of publicly owned arms of government like Post Office that was used to deflect enquiries by him and others.
    If these are really commercial organisations then Directors need to be criminally liable for misleading shareholders as represented by ministers, as they would be for a listed company.
    As there are so many of these ‘arms length’ commercial organisations as part of the state,
    I shudder to think what is being hidden there.
    Obviously Post Office is the most egregious example, its power to bring prosecutions should have been curbed long ago as the price to operate ‘commercially’

  • Patrick C Smith 8th Jan '24 - 12:00pm

    The main problems in the appalling Post Offuice Scandal derive directly from the failure to provide a natural justice overview in administration of the original faulty operational Horizon computer s/ware computer system.This faulty Horizon was installed in 1999 and still not replaced until 20i5 and I have so far not been told when Horizon was ditched and replaced by a reliable new IT system? Horizon continuously was erroroneous in making miscalcations that led to some 800 wrongful criminal onvictions and human character desement on an unbelivable scale of brech of natural justice principles .It led to 800 sub-post masters wrongful convictions and their suffering families many imprisoned -reported 254 persons imprisoned .The resultant miscarriage of justice now are seen in retrospect as legionary cases in English legal history of fraud and theft from the Post Office.It is now time to free and compensate all falsely convicted persons and who must ne exonerated en masse under rules of exemptionalism in natural justice.We all know that the Horizon faulty culphable computer was installed in 1999 by the Blair Government and since scant interest in natural justice for the sub-post officers until 2015.To say now in hindsight that all generations of Ministers- whom have responsiblibility to oversee the Post office efficient running of a core national public service were poorly advised is mitigating but does not solely vindicate any Minsiters in post from 1999-2015!

  • Another day and another day of front page coverage that disproves the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Libdem ministers may be scapegoats but opponents have better ammunition against libdems now than ever before.

  • Although this case has rightly become a cause celebre, miscarriages of justice are far too common. Last year Andrew Malkinson was released having been, in his words, “kidnapped by the state” for 17 years for an offence he did not commit. The Criminal Cases Review Commission looks at more than a thousand cases each year. Most miscarriages of justice occur because a person in authority acts in bad faith. We see the state as a beneficent provider of schools, hospitals and welfare, but we should never forget that at a whim it can take your livelihood, your freedom, everything’s you have.

  • Alex Macfie 8th Jan '24 - 6:02pm

    Russell: Actually the ammunition is pretty wet. The reports are hatchet jobs; they contain virtually no actual evidence of wrongdoing by Lib Dem former ministers, just vague insinuations. Time will tell, but I don’t expect this to get very far, except to give people who already hate us one more reason to.

  • Alan Bates, a man who one should listen to, told CH4 news that he DIDN’T blame Davey any more than other ministers involved in the PO scandal..He saved his anger for those managers and executives of Royal Mail and Fujitsu who, he said, lied not only to the courts and sub-postmasters but to civil servants and ministers..
    For the Tory party, whose ministers NEVER resign unless dragged, kicking and screaming, out of office, to demand Davey’s resignation is a bit rich..

  • Which was more likely? Hundreds of postmasters committing fraud or a software bug? Surely the latter. Could “user error” have been to blame? That would be a software error – “user errors” should be trapped. The programmers should have been looking for bugs, not denying any problem and hacking the data behind the scenes.

    What about the help line? The operators must have known that they were lying when claiming (as instructed) that “no-one else has a problem.” Was fear for their jobs a justification for lying?

  • Jason Connor 9th Jan '24 - 2:28pm

    My answer to the last comment, two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • Peter Watson 9th Jan '24 - 5:40pm

    @expats “For the Tory party, whose ministers NEVER resign unless dragged, kicking and screaming, out of office, to demand Davey’s resignation is a bit rich..”
    A piece in the Spectator that points out how frequently Ed Davey has called for Tories to resign suggests that they’ll be happy just to use this as a way to undermine that part of his arsenal!

  • Lee Thacker 10th Jan '24 - 3:08pm

    I have asked this question a few times, but does anyone know how many sub postmasters there were 20 years ago? 700 were prosecuted. Would that have been 10%, 1%, 5% of the total?

  • @ Lee Thacker

    Have a look at the Post Office Network Report, published annually, which shows the size and make up of the post office network as at the end of March each year.

  • Not wanting to deflect away from the Horizon Scandal, so this is just a place marker.

    “It’s worth pointing out that since the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, there is a presumption in UK law that computer systems are working correctly unless there is evidence to the contrary.” Nick Baird

    This poorly thought out amendment makes no distinction between the computer hardware and the software that runs on it. In the age of AI and self-driving cars, and the certain knowledge that software and complex technology systems do contain faults and thus don’t always work as intended, this legislation needs to be revised, as it will bite us again and again…

  • Nonconformistradical 11th Jan '24 - 4:25pm

    “this legislation needs to be revised, as it will bite us again and again…”

    Absolutely yes – says long-retired IT person

  • Chris Moore 11th Jan '24 - 4:30pm

    Hello Lee, at start of 2023, there were 6,700 members of the sub-post masters/mistresses organisation.

    As many small post offices have closed, there were certainly more sub-post masters in 1999, when prosecutions began.

    Bear in mind the prosecutions were spread out over twenty years.

    Simplifying, there were an average of 50 prosecutions a year. So less than 1% a year were prosecuted. However, many others lost their jobs, their reputation or “paid back” money to rectify the software’s errors.

  • Lee Thacker 11th Jan '24 - 9:52pm

    Thanks Chris, so over the years it could possibly be 10% of sub-masters who were victims of this scandal. Incredible.

  • Chris Moore 12th Jan '24 - 7:32am

    Hi Lee,

    My estimation is that it might be several thousand who were affected in total: about a thousand prosecutions, significantly more who were affected, but not prosecuted.

    So could be in the range of 20-30%.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Jan '24 - 4:03pm

    If the results of the present investigation into this saga are unsatisfactory there need to be a full Royal Commission. The details are so dire and over such a long time that nothing less will suffice. There must be people who were suspicous of this IT system. Who, what and when would play a crucial role in it.

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