Victims of the Post Office scandal are close to having their convictions quashed after Rishi Sunak announced new legislation “to make sure that those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal are swiftly exonerated and compensated”.

More than 700 postmasters were convicted of theft and fraud based on faulty data from the Horizon IT system installed and maintained by Japanese tech company Fujitsu, with some victims handed prison time and others left in financial ruin.

After 20 years of campaigning, just 93 of the 736 convictions have been overturned – but the recent ITV1 drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office has put a public spotlight on the issue, and the government is under increasing pressure to take action.

 

An independent public statutory inquiry will continue this year, and the prime minister has described the situation as “an appalling miscarriage of justice”. But who is responsible?

Yahoo News reveals the people who are facing questions over the scandal.

Post Office

Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells has faced a massive public backlash over the scandal. She joined the Post Office in 2007 and was CEO from 2012-2019, during which time she received a total salary of more than £4.5m.

Vennells has been accused of denying issues with the Horizon system when complaints first emerged. At the same time, the Post Office under her leadership was described as “cruel and incompetent” by Conservative peer James Arbuthnot.

After ITV’s series aired, more than one million people signed a petition calling for her to be stripped of the CBE she received in 2019.

On 9 January, Vennells opted to hand back the award. They said: “I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and prosecuted due to the Horizon system.”

Former Royal Mail boss Adam Crozier did not feature in the recent drama series but was the CEO of Royal Mail from 2003 to 2010 before the Post Office and Royal Mail became separate entities.

Crozier has denied any knowledge of the “Horizon issue”. However, one former Royal Mail IT manager told the BBC that he would “struggle to think” Crozier was not told about the “problematic” system “at some point”.

Crozier has since said: “While I did not have any involvement in the Horizon issue during my time at Royal Mail, I feel deeply sorry for those whose lives were ruined by what happened and stand ready to participate in the inquiry’s continued efforts to make sure this tragic situation never happens again.”

During the scandal, two Post Office managing directors – Alan Cook (2006-2010) and David Smith (2010) – maintained positive messaging about the Horizon IT system, as sub-post managers were prosecuted due to the faulty software.

Cook wrote in a 2009 letter to a Conservative MP: “I am satisfied that there is no evidence to doubt the integrity of the Horizon system and that it is robust and fit for purpose”, while Smith is alleged to have commissioned an internal report on the system that was designed to paint it in a positive light.

Post Office chairpersons Sir Tim Parker and Alice Perkins (the wife of former cabinet minister Jack Straw), who held their roles from 2015-2022 and 2011-2015, respectively, have also questioned their knowledge of the scandal.

Perkins took on the role after issues with Horizon had begun and as it became apparent that sub-post managers were being wrongly prosecuted over the issue. However, her actions to rectify the situation appear to have been limited, although she is credited with funding for an independent forensic investigation.

Parker, meanwhile, backed his Post Office board as they pursued court cases against sub-post managers – eventually standing down from his role a week before an inquiry into the scandal opened. He apologised over the scandal in 2021.

Fujitsu

The government had said that Japanese tech company Fujitsu would be “held accountable” if it was found to have been responsible for the scandal.

A spokesman for the prime minister said: “Once the inquiry can establish the facts and sets them out, those who are found responsible will be held to account, whether that is legally or financially.”

The company has apologised to those wrongly convicted due to the faulty software, stating: “The inquiry has reinforced the devastating impact on postmasters’ lives and that of their families, and Fujitsu has apologised for its role in their suffering.”

However, there are questions over why Fujitsu continued to win public sector contracts from the government even as a 2019 court ruling found its Post Office software was faulty.

Fujitsu’s UK chief executives are now in the spotlight over the scandal. Michael Keegan, the UK boss from 2014-2015, told parliament in 2015 that “we can continue to have confidence in the Horizon system”, while the 2000-2004 UK boss of Fujitsu, Richard Christou, negotiated the Pathway project that resulted in Horizon being implemented. He has previously described this as the company’s “most profitable” contract.

Gareth Jenkins, the tech expert who helped to build the Horizon IT system, has also come under fire for his role in the scandal. Jenkins gave evidence that was used to secure the convictions of hundreds of sub-postmasters when he said the software was “not corrupt”.

He is under police investigation for his role in the scandal and has twice postponed his appearance at the public inquiry. When approached for comment by The Telegraph, he said: “I don’t want to talk; I don’t have anything to say to you.”

Politicians

Liberal Democrat politicians also have not fared well in light of the Horizon scandal. The current party leader, Ed Davey, was postal affairs minister between 2010 and 2012 and was contacted several times by postmaster Alan Bates, featured in ITV’s drama.

Davey eventually agreed to meet Bates but gave what the postmaster considered a “disappointing” response to the issues. Bates later met Davey’s successor, then-MP Norman Lamb, to discuss the case, which was passed on to Lamb’s successor, Jo Swinson. Bates has subsequently said he would not want to single out Davey, who has accused the Post Office of lying to him.

Swinson, who later became the Liberal Democrat leader, held the postal affairs minister role as the scandal unfolded. Swinson said she questioned civil servants and the Post Office about Horizon but was assured that the system was working.

Davey has said that the wrongly convicted sub-postmasters should be “completely exonerated”.

“It’s essential that we get to the bottom of this, that we get the truth, that the people in the Post Office who were perpetrating this conspiracy of lies are held to account,” he told The Guardian. “We were reassured time and again that the Horizon system was working. We were told there weren’t that many postmasters affected. We were just told so many lies.”

Outside of the ministers with portfolio responsibility for the Post Office, the government also faces questions about its response to the scandal. Sunak’s pledge to “swiftly” exonerate victims came relatively less swiftly than many of the sub-postmasters would have hoped.

“The government is like the owner of a dangerous dog mauling a defenceless child, saying, ‘Sorry, so sorry, but it has nothing to do with me’,” Edward Henry KC, representing former sub-postmasters, said.