Rishi Sunak has announced a new law to clear the names of hundreds of innocent postmasters wrongly convicted in the decades-long Horizon IT scandal.
The controversial saga saw dedicated public servants accused of financial crimes based on faulty software, leading to bankruptcies, suicides, and disrupted lives.
"This is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation's history," Sunak said in Parliament. "People who worked hard to serve their communities had their lives and reputations destroyed through absolutely no fault of their own. The victims must get justice and compensation."
The Horizon scandal unfolded in the early 2000s when the Post Office rolled out a new computer system riddled with bugs and glitches. Accounting discrepancies arose and many subpostmasters, often sole traders lacking IT expertise, were blamed for financial irregularities. Despite pleas of innocence and mounting evidence of software flaws, hundreds faced criminal charges, with some even imprisoned.
Years of tireless campaigning by the victims and their families, spearheaded by the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, finally began to bear fruit in 2019. An independent inquiry confirmed the software's deficiencies and highlighted the Post Office's "woeful" handling of the crisis. The path to redress was slow, with individual court challenges proving lengthy and arduous.
Sunak's new law aims to offer swift exoneration. Under the proposed legislation, those convicted due to Horizon errors will not need to undergo individual appeals. Instead, they can simply sign a declaration of innocence to have their records cleared. This unprecedented "blanket acquittal" is estimated to benefit around 750 former subpostmasters.
"This is a watershed moment," declared Alan Bates, a postmaster wrongly convicted and imprisoned for nearly four years. "For too long, we've been treated like pariahs. Now, our names will be cleared, and we can finally begin to rebuild our lives."
Beyond exoneration, the government also pledged significant financial compensation. An initial £75,000 upfront payment will be offered to the most affected individuals, with further compensation based on individual damages. While monetary recompense cannot erase the years of suffering, it represents a vital step towards financial recovery.
Sunak's announcement drew mixed reactions. While widely welcomed by campaigners and opposition parties, some legal experts expressed concerns about the unprecedented nature of the blanket acquittal and its potential implications for due process. However, the government insists that the exceptional circumstances of the Horizon scandal warrant this decisive action.
The Post Office issued a statement acknowledging the "profound impact" of the scandal and expressing its deepest regret for the "serious errors" that occurred. The company pledged to cooperate fully with the new law's implementation.
Though the journey to justice has been long and painful for the victims of the Post Office scandal, Sunak’s new law offers hope and serves as a reminder of the importance of accountability.
Edited By: Josh Reidelbach
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