Inquiry launched

Police investigate potential fraud at Post Office

Toby Jones starred in an ITV drama into the Post Office scandal

A criminal investigation has been launched into the Post Office’s wrongful prosecution of hundreds of sub-postmasters, Scotland Yard has confirmed.

Detectives from the Metropolitan police are looking at “potential fraud offences” committed in the handling of the scandal around the Horizon IT system.

Between 1999 and 2015, at least 700 postmasters were prosecuted over allegations of fraud, theft and false accounting based on evidence from the faulty computer system. Hundreds were bankrupted or jailed and at least four people took their own lives.

Postmasters claimed that tens of millions of pounds wrongly clawed back went into Post Office profits.

On Friday, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police told The Times that officers were “investigating potential fraud offences arising out of these prosecutions”, relating to “monies recovered from sub-postmasters as a result of prosecutions or civil actions”.

It has not been confirmed whether the investigation relates to individual staff members or the Post Office as a corporate entity. The Met is already investigating two former experts at Horizon developer Fujitsu, who were witnesses in the trials, for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The latest developments in the long-running saga follows this week’s four-part drama about the miscarriage of justice called Mr Bates vs The Post Office aired on ITV and starring Toby Jones as Alan Bates who led a nationwide campaign.

Fifty further potential victims have come forward this week, including five who want to appeal against their convictions.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which refers cases to the Court of Appeal, has urged more potential victims to come forward. It issued a statement on Friday saying that it “might be able to help if your appeal was unsuccessful, or if you pleaded guilty in a magistrates’ court, or if you are a close relative of a former sub-postmaster who has died”.

One of the central characters in the case, Jo Hamilton, 66, from Hampshire, told The Times: “They’ve made people’s lives a misery and they’ve committed crimes. It’s not just a computer problem — this is absolute corruption at its worst, state-sponsored corruption.”

Ms Hamilton led a number of postmasters in a successful Court of Appeals case in 2021. Since that judgment, more than 90 sub-postmasters have had their convictions quashed, but more than 550 are yet to come forward. A public inquiry is expected to conclude this year.

The Post Office said: “We share fully the aims of the public inquiry to get to the truth of what went wrong in the past and establish accountability. It’s for the inquiry to reach its own independent conclusions after consideration of all the evidence on the issues that it is examining. It would be inappropriate for the Post Office to comment on any police investigation.

“We are doing all we can to put right the wrongs of the past, including providing full and fair compensation for those affected and offers of more than £138 million have been made to around 2,700 postmasters, the vast majority of which are agreed and paid.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt today said he wanted to speed up the process of getting compensation to the victims.

There is a petition for former Post Office chief executive and Anglican priest Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE, awarded for services to the Post Office.

On Monday, when the first part of the ITV drama was aired, the petition had about 1,000 signatures. By the time the final episode was broadcast on Thursday, the total had leapt past 350,000. So far, more than 600,000 people have signed it.

38 Degrees, the campaign group behind the petition, said that “many signatories [were] saying they’d been inspired to join the call by watching the drama,” which “brought the long-running scandal to the attention of millions of people”.

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