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Post Office boss apologises for accepting bonus related to Horizon sub-masters scandal inquiry

The chief executive of the Post Office has apologised for paying himself and other senior officers unapproved bonuses relating to the Horizon IT Inquiry into how more than 700 Post Office workers were wrongly prosecuted for stealing company money.

In the largest case of wrongful conviction in British history, sub-postmasters were accused of theft and false accounting after discrepancies were found in Post Office accounts. Many were found guilty and spent time in prison.

However, the inconsistencies were actually caused by a computer system called Horizon, installed by Fujitsu, that incorrectly showed shortfalls on company accounts.

Unbeknown to the inquiry’s chair, retired High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams, the Post Office authorised payments to senior staff members, including chief executive Nick Read, based on a target executives had set themselves.

Letters between the Post Office and inquiry representatives published on Friday reveal that “remunerations” were awarded for the executives who succeeded in supplying “all required evidence and information on time”.

Former post office worker Noel Thomas, who was convicted of false accounting in 2006, celebrates with his daughter Sian outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal. Thirty-nine former subpostmasters who were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting because of the Post Office's defective Horizon accounting system have had their names cleared by the Court of Appeal. Issue date: Friday April 23, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story COURTS Horizon. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Former post office worker Noel Thomas, who was convicted of false accounting in 2006, celebrates with his daughter Sian outside the Royal Courts of Justice in 2021 (Photo by: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

The Post Office’s annual financial report also states that the payments were signed off by Sir Wyn, which they were not.

After a solicitor to the inquiry, Segun Jide, wrote to the Post Office to seek clarification on this, Mr Read, apologised and said he would return his bonus.

In his letter on behalf of the Post Office addressed to Sir Wyn, Mr Read admitted that it had failed to seek approval on the payments, which he conceded was an “unacceptable error on our part”.

Mr Read said: “I would like to reassure you that we continue to work hard as a business to support every aspect of the inquiry’s work and are determined to put the interests of the postmasters affected first.

“Our clear intent remains to offer full and fair compensation as quickly as possible and we are doing all we can to work with the Government to achieve that.

“I will personally continue to ensure that the business gives the utmost support to you and the inquiry team so that all the lessons can be learned from this Horizon IT scandal.”

Sir Wyn wrote back to Mr Read thanking him for “taking the trouble to personally apologise to me on behalf of the Post Office”, and advised him that the letters would be made public.

Horizon was introduced into the Post Office network from 1999. The system was used for tasks such as transactions, accounting and stocktaking.

In 2017 the campaign group, Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA) took the Post Office to court through a group litigation action by 550 former employees, who were mainly ex sub-postmasters.

In December 2019, at the end of a long-running series of civil cases, the Post Office agreed to settle with 555 claimants, paying £57.75 million in damages.

Dozens of former sub-postmasters have since had their convictions quashed in court, and in April, 2022, the Post Office said it “sincerely apologises” for “historical failures”.

(With agencies)

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