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Rishi Sunak has announced new legislation to overturn the convictions of hundreds of sub-postmasters prosecuted by the Post Office in the Horizon IT scandal.
The UK prime minister told the House of Commons on Wednesday he wanted “justice and compensation” for the more than 700 people convicted between 2000 and 2014 of theft or false accounting using flawed data from Fujitsu’s Horizon software.
“I can announce we will introduce new primary legislation to make sure those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal are swiftly exonerated and compensated,” he said during prime minister’s questions.
Sunak also pledged a “new upfront payment of £75,000” for more than 500 sub-postmasters pursued in civil cases.
“We will make sure the truth comes to light, rewrite the wrongs of the past,” he said, calling the scandal “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history”.
Compensation of £600,000 had been offered to every sub-postmaster whose conviction for theft or false accounting was overturned. To date, only 93 convictions have been overturned.
Kevin Hollinrake, the postal affairs minister, earlier indicated that Fujitsu could face “financial sanctions” to help fund compensation for victims of the Post Office scandal if the Japanese software company was found to be at fault.
He told the BBC on Wednesday that it was a “realistic” scenario that Fujitsu would have to pay some of the bill for compensation if it was identified as “culpable for this scandal”.
Government procurement records showed that even after Fujitsu’s software was found to be at fault in a landmark December 2019 Court of Appeal ruling, the company was involved in £4.9bn of solo and joint public sector contracts.
Fujitsu said this week it “apologised for its role in [the postmasters’] suffering” and was committed to supporting the public inquiry, but declined to comment further “out of respect for the inquiry process”.
Earlier in the Commons, Lee Anderson, deputy Tory chair, called on Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey to “clear off” and quit on account of his actions when he was postal affairs minister between 2010 and 2012.
Davey has come under fire for not doing more to hold the Post Office to account when sub-postmasters warned him about the wrongful prosecutions. He has said he had been misled by Post Office. The Post Office scandal has brewed for decades under the oversight of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat ministers.
Highlighting that Davey has in the past called for the resignation of more than 30 other high-profile figures who have made mis-steps in their jobs, Anderson asked Sunak whether he agreed the Lib Dem leader “should take his own advice and start by clearing his desk, clearing his diary, and clear off?”