The scheme was set up in 2013 after the controversy around the Post Office’s Horizon accounting system had already continued for several years. However, 144 MPs said they could no longer support the existing mediation efforts after hearing accounts of its failures from affected sub-postmasters in their constituencies.
“The scheme was set up to help our constituents seek redress and to maintain the Post Office’s good reputation,” said James Arbuthnot, the MP leading the group, in an open letter sent on Tuesday to Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells. “It is doing neither. It has ended up mired in legal wrangling, with the Post Office objecting to most of the cases even going into the mediation that the scheme was designed to provide.”
The UK’s 11,500 sub-postmasters independently operate smaller post offices, and are obliged to make up shortfalls out of their own pockets. In 2009, reports surfaced of sub-postmasters who had received heavy fines or jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they said resulted from problems with Horizon.
In 2011, 85 sub-postmasters sought legal support in claims against the Post Office over the issue. The Post Office has always argued that there is no evidence of systemic problems with Horizon, but set up the mediation scheme in 2013 after independent investigators found defects in the software.
The MPs said some of their affected constituents have in some cases lost their livelihoods, reputations and homes. At least 150 sub-postmasters are thought to be affected by the issue.
“Either the Post Office is awash with criminals who open sub Post Offices for personal gain, or something has gone terribly wrong,” stated MP Mike Wood. “MPs are inclined to believe the latter and we are all shocked that the Post Office seems not to want to get to the bottom of all this.”
The MPs said they would seek justice for their constituents by other means.
“The mediation process has failed even those sub-postmasters who were originally included,” said Huw Irranca-Davies MP. “But there are also many who fell outside the scheme and have had no chance to be heard. They all deserve fair play, they all deserve justice, so the fight goes on.”
The Post Office said in a statement it found the letter “surprising”, saying it takes the issues “very seriously”.
“We are paying for the small number of postmasters who have raised issues to get independent advice and have opened up a mediation scheme,” the Post Office said in a statement.
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