Historical Matters FAQs

We receive a large number of requests for information or responses to questions in relation to Horizon, the GLO, the Historical Shortfalls Scheme and other historical matters related topics. This FAQ addresses the most common questions.

Last publication Monday 11 July 2022

 

Does Post Office still have the power to bring private prosecutions?

Post Office has not undertaken any private prosecutions related to Horizon since 2015 and has no intention of doing so. In cases of suspected criminal activity, evidence is referred to the relevant law enforcement agency.

Post Office has no special authority to bring private prosecutions. The right to bring a private criminal prosecution is available to both companies and individuals in England and Wales as a result of section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. 

When did Post Office start and stop prosecutions related to Horizon?

Post Office has not undertaken private prosecutions related to Horizon since 2015.

The Horizon system was first introduced from 1999. Prosecutions in which Horizon evidence may have featured took place between 1999 and 2015.

Were there also prosecutions in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Service (COPFS) is responsible for prosecutions in Scotland and undertook all prosecutions of historical Post Office cases.  In Northern Ireland, historical Post Office cases were undertaken by its principal prosecution authority, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPSNI).

Post Office has proactively shared the data it holds on prosecutions which appear to have been brought by other prosecutors with the relevant bodies: the Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland (PPSNI), the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Service (COPFS), the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who have prosecuted cases themselves as well as, since 2012, on behalf of the DWP. Post Office continues to work with these bodies to ensure as much assistance as possible is provided.

Have any cases prosecuted by bodies other than Post Office been appealed?

Yes. In addition to the appeals in which Post Office was the prosecutor, there have been six appeals to date in which the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was the Respondent, not Post Office. One of these was conceded and the conviction overturned and five were opposed, with the safety of the convictions upheld by the Court of Appeal in two cases and the appeals abandoned in the remaining three. 

How many prosecutions and convictions were there?

Post Office has currently identified a total of 706 historical convictions in cases it prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 in which Horizon evidence may have featured.

Post Office have currently identified 205 cases which potentially featured Horizon evidence and which were prosecuted during the relevant time (1999 – 2015) by other bodies, not Post Office.

Post Office has proactively shared the data it holds on these prosecutions with the relevant bodies: the Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland (PPSNI), the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Service (COPFS) in Scotland, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who have prosecuted cases themselves as well as, since 2012, on behalf of the DWP. Post Office continues to work with these bodies to ensure as much assistance as possible is provided.

Will Post Office provide compensation to people who were prosecuted by other bodies, not Post Office, if their convictions are overturned? 

All people whose convictions are overturned, where the reliability of Horizon evidence was essential to their prosecution, can seek compensation from Post Office and apply for an Interim Payment. Final compensation will be determined on a case by case basis.

Is the Post Office entitled to take any money back from an interim payment made ahead of further or final settlement offers?

No. We understand that some people had concerns about this.  We have reassured all recipients of interim payments and their legal representatives that Post Office would not ask for this money to be returned.

How is Post Office contacting people with convictions so that they can appeal?

We have contacted the majority of people with relevant convictions in cases prosecuted by Post Office between 1999 and 2015, although there remain a very small number of people that we are still unable to trace despite continuing strenuous efforts to do so.  More detail about Post Office’s work to assist people with historical convictions can be found here.

We understand that there may be people who would prefer to leave the past behind them, that revisiting a painful part of their life is incredibly difficult and they may not want to respond to Post Office. But no unsafe conviction should be missed. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body that investigates potential miscarriages of justice, therefore agreed to our proposal that they will contact people who have not yet responded to Post Office.  More details about this can be found on the CCRC website here.

Progress on appeals through the Courts can be found here.

Why is Post Office opposing some appeal cases?

Every case is very carefully considered in view of previous Court of Appeal judgments. The Court has distinguished between what it has termed ‘Horizon cases’ – those in which the reliability of Horizon evidence was essential to the prosecution – and those which were not. But it is of course for the Court to determine the safety of convictions.

The three Court of Appeal judgments to date are:

Josephine Hamilton & others  (23 April 2021)

Robert Ambrose & others (7 October 2021)

Margaret White & David Cameron  (31 March 2022)

Why are public funds being used to compensate postmasters?

It is a priority for us to provide full, fair and final compensation. But Post Office does not have the financial resources to pay meaningful compensation and we welcome funding support from Government to help enable this.

Has the Horizon Scandal made Post Office insolvent?

No. Government, our shareholder, is providing funding support for compensation payments. Details of Post Office’s financial position can be found in our Report and Accounts.

When will people be compensated?

We are continuing to make offers and compensation payments every week. Postmasters who do not have criminal convictions were able to apply to the Historical Shortfall Scheme for compensation and many claims have been resolved. We expect the overwhelming majority of claimants to the scheme - 95% - will have received offers, following assessment by the Scheme’s independent advisory panel, by the end of the year (2022).

People whose convictions are overturned where the reliability of Horizon evidence was essential to the prosecution are part of separate compensation arrangements. We are providing swift financial help with interim payments of up to £100,000 in advance of full compensation. We want to provide full, fair and final settlements as soon as possible and we welcome the Government’s announcement on 30 June 2022 on actions it is taking to support this.

How much is the average compensation payment in the Historical Shortfall Scheme?

There is no pre-defined amount for individual compensation payments as these are assessed by the Scheme’s independent advisory panel who recommend fair outcomes for claims.

Details of payments made to date can be found here but individual cases vary significantly in amounts claimed and their complexity and therefore the published figures cannot be interpreted as an indicator of future payments or the overall potential cost of the scheme. More straightforward claims of lower amounts have naturally generally been completed more quickly through the Scheme to date.

Will the cost of establishing and running the Historical Shortfall Scheme affect compensation amounts?

No. The costs of establishing and running the scheme have no impact on individual compensation payments as there is an independent advisory panel assessing claims.  There is no pre-defined amount for individual compensation payments.

Will there be further compensation to address unfairness of payments received by the 555 postmasters who took Post Office to Court in group litigation?

Since it came to light through media reports that around £46 million of the settlement provided to Group Litigation claimants was directed to the funders of their case, we have continually urged the Government to address this unfairness. On 30 June 2022 Government announced a planned compensation package for GLO claimants and we welcome this action on final, equitable compensation.

Why is it taking so long for people to receive compensation?

It’s a priority for us to ensure full, fair and final compensation for people entitled to this and we are continuing to make offers and payments each week from the Historical Shortfall Scheme.

Government funding support was necessary to enable payments to begin last year and we are now making good progress.

We have appointed additional members to the Scheme’s independent advisory panel to help progress individual cases as quickly and efficiently as possible. When payments are made, interest is added right up to the date of any offer.

For people whose convictions are overturned where the reliability of Horizon evidence was essential to the prosecution, there are separate compensation arrangements. We are providing interim payments of up to £100,000 in advance of full compensation and in the vast majority of cases, these are paid within 28 days of an offer being accepted.

Government announced funding support for full and final compensation for such cases in December 2021 and we are continuing to work with them and legal representatives for victims towards full compensation. We want to provide full, fair and final settlements as soon as possible and we welcome the Government’s announcement on 30 June 2022 on actions it is taking to support this.

Is Horizon still being used?

Yes. There have been several versions of Horizon since its introduction in 1999 and the current version of the system, introduced from 2017, was found in the group litigation to be robust, relative to comparable systems. But we are not complacent about that and are continuing to work, together with our postmasters, to make improvements.

Ultimately, as part of the transformation of the Post Office, we will be moving away from Horizon to a new IT cloud-based system that will be more user-friendly and easier to adapt for new products and services.

Have any customers been impacted by the past Horizon issues?

The issues involved in the litigation about Horizon related to potential impacts on postmasters’ branch accounting. Our services to customers were not affected.

What are you doing to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

We have undertaken a programme of wholesale reform. Over the past two years we have undertaken, together with postmasters, vital work to improve our culture, practices and operating procedures throughout every part of the business.

We have increased postmasters’ remuneration and transformed the support we provide. Last year two serving postmasters were appointed as non-executive directors to the Post Office Board to ensure that decisions taken at the very top of the organisation are grounded in reality for postmasters.  We also run hundreds of events every year to hear directly from postmasters.

Why hasn’t anyone at Post Office been held to account for the Horizon Scandal?

There is a public inquiry, led by a Judge, Sir Wyn Williams, that is examining the events of the past and we are fully engaging with this important work. It is for Sir Wyn to independently provide his Inquiry’s conclusions regarding 'what went wrong' and 'why' during the years following the introduction of the original version of Horizon in 1999.

Past events being addressed by the Inquiry cover a large period of time and the vast majority of staff during that period no longer work for Post Office Limited.