‘No hiding place’ for those responsible for Post Office Horizon scandal


MPs lined up in the House of Commons to call for Post Office and Fujitsu executives as well as lawyers responsible for the Post Office Horizon scandal, to be held accountable for what they did.

So far, no current or former executive at the Post Office or Horizon system supplier Fujitsu have been held to account, but MP Kevan Jones said there should be “no hiding place for anyone who has been responsible.”

Thousands of subpostmasters were blamed and held responsible for unexplained accounting shortfalls, which it was later proved were caused by computer errors and didn’t actually exist. Many were prosecuted and sent to prison with many more made bankrupt. Thousands of lives were left in ruins by the Post Office’s corporate behaviour.

When the current statutory public inquiry into the scandal is complete in early 2025, MPs say they will push for executives within the Post Office, Fujitsu and their lawyers to be held accountable for their actions.

Kevin Hollinrake, under-secretary of state at the Department of Business and Trade, which is the sole Post Office shareholder, said there is a “strong appetite” among MPs to identify those responsible, but the inquiry must first complete its work.

He said it is important the inquiry is given the chance to establish “the truth” first. “From that truth will follow corporate and individual accountability, for which there is a strong appetite in this House and beyond,” he said. “I sympathise with honourable members’ desire to see accountability right now, but we must let justice take its course.”

Hollinrake also drew Fujitsu into the debate: “Where responsibility can be assigned, there should be accountability, perhaps in the form of compensation paid by those companies,” he said.

“It is right, though, that the inquiry is allowed to take the time it needs to report and to identify blame where it exists. Those matters can then be dealt with at that time.”

During the debate, Jones summed up the feeling among victims of the scandal by quoting Tom Brown, a former subpostmaster in his constituency, who lost everything after being wrongly blamed and forced to repay thousands of pounds of unexplained losses, which didn’t actually exist.

Jones quoted the final line of a statement Brown made to the Post Office inquiry last year. He said: “I finish with the final line of Tom Brown’s evidence to the public inquiry: ‘I would…like to find out who was responsible once and for all and to see someone take accountability for the wrongdoings of the Post Office’.” Brown died recently, and never received the compensation he was due or saw full justice done.

“If this scandal had happened in the United States, which takes a very different approach to financial crime and misdemeanours, people would be in jail by now,” added Jones. “The evidence is all there, and I accept that [the public inquiry] is slowly prising it out of the Post Office, but there are individuals such as [former Post Office CEO] Paula Vennells, who, ironically, got a CBE in 2019 for services to the Post Office, even though she oversaw all that was going on.” Vennells walked away with over £400,000 in bonuses when she was forced to leave the Post Office in 2021 as controversy over her role in the scandal increased.

“If there is one broad lesson to be learned from this scandal by ministers and future ministers, it is that when the state does something like this that is so wrong, there should be no hiding place for anyone who has been responsible,” said Jones.

Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said “urgency and speed” is vital. “I look forward to the full publication of the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, so that we can ensure that those responsible are finally held to account. It cannot be right that they have not been held to account as yet, when so much time has passed.”

Marion Fellows, MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, said, “At every level of the [Post Office] there was clear culpability.” She added: “The actions of Post Office employees at various levels and in various departments, including those responsible for auditing and investigations and in the legal departments, have been brought to light in the most recent stage of the inquiry.”

The Post Office was also accused of continuing to stand in the way of justice through its legal defence during the inquiry. David Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said: “I had the chief executive of the Post Office come and apologise to one of the people I have represented in this exercise. The point I made to him, which I hope the minister will also take on board, is that the corporate behaviour of the Post Office has not been above criticism – it has employed very expensive lawyers to make this process much more difficult for the victims than it needs to be. I hope the government will continue to encourage the Post Office not to do that.”

The Post Office’s use of expensive lawyers to defend the indefensible is not new in this scandal. During a High Court group litigation in 2018/19, subpostmasters were forced to use litigation funders to sue the Post Office, ultimately proving that it was the Horizon software that was to blame for unexplained accounting shortfalls. Although the government-owned Post Office knew this was the case, it threw over £100m of taxpayers’ money at the court case to try to prevent the truth coming out. Had the Post Office succeeded, the truth about what is described as the widest miscarriage of justice in UK history, may never have been revealed.

Nearly 100 former subpostmsters so far have had wrongful criminal convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal, with many more expected.

The MPs were in the House of Commons to debate the Post Office Horizon System Compensation Bill, which is being rushed through to ensure the government has extra time to pay compensation to victims of the scandal.

Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, with the stories of seven subpostmasters (see timeline of all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal below).