The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) has agreed to satisfy the previous choose heading up the inquiry into the Publish Workplace scandal that ruined the lives of a whole bunch of subpostmasters.
In 2020, after a the non-statutory inquiry into the scandal was arrange, chaired by Wyn Williams, the JFSA mentioned it will not cooperate except there have been substantial modifications to the phrases of reference. It needed the inquiry to be on a statutory footing, so witnesses could possibly be referred to as to present proof below oath and documentation could possibly be demanded.
After the federal government this week introduced the inquiry was being made statutory, the JFSA agreed to satisfy Williams to debate his method and what the inquiry will now embody.
The Publish Workplace Horizon Scandal noticed subpostmasters blamed for unexplained accounting shortfalls which have been attributable to errors within the Horizon accounting system they use in branches. A whole bunch have been prosecuted and a few despatched to jail. Paying again supposed losses left households financially ruined and destroyed many lives.
Subpostmasters at all times believed the Horizon laptop system was accountable for the shortfalls, however the Publish Workplace at all times denied this regardless of figuring out about software program bugs. After a decade of campaigning and two Excessive Courtroom trials, the JFSA was proved proper in its assertions that the Horizon laptop system was accountable for the unexplained accounting shortfalls.
A Laptop Weekly investigation in 2009 revealed the tales of subpostmasters who suffered losses they mentioned have been attributable to errors within the retail and accounting software program they use in branches.
The Publish Workplace denied this, and 736 subpostmasters have been prosecuted for theft and false accounting, with some being despatched to jail, in what has change into one of many largest miscarriages of justice in UK historical past (see timeline under).
Alan Bates, the previous subpostmaster who arrange the JFSA in 2009, wrote in an e mail to its members: “So now there’s to be a Statutory Inquiry, one thing we have been after – the query is, are we going to interact with it?
“In the mean time, many of the statements being issued simply counsel there will likely be powers to make witnesses seem and for requested paperwork to be supplied. However, in actuality, a Statutory Inquiry can achieve this far more, and it’s actually all the way down to the choose main the inquiry to set out how he sees the inquiry progressing and what floor he desires to cowl,” added Bates.
He mentioned he has agreed to a gathering with former choose Wyn Williams.
The federal government mentioned its choice to place the inquiry on a statutory footing got here after the Courtroom of Enchantment overturned the felony convictions of 39 former subpostmasters on April 23. It was dealing with a judicial evaluate of its earlier inquiry, with the JFSA about to take the federal government to courtroom in search of one.
“Now it’s to be relaunched as a Statutory Inquiry, one thing we have been urgent for to the extent that BEIS knew that subsequent week we have been to submit an software for Judicial Evaluate with a purpose to halt the present ‘whitewash’ inquiry and set up a Statutory Inquiry,” Bates instructed JFSA members. “In actual fact, BEIS already had all our paperwork, together with the authorized argument that had been ready for the courtroom.”
Following the announcement that the inquiry was to change into statutory, Bates met Paul Scully, the minister liable for the Publish Workplace within the Division for Enterprise, Power and Industrial Technique (BEIS).
Bates mentioned: “In abstract, [Scully’s] solutions have been that it was very a lot all the way down to Wyn Williams to resolve the parameters and route of the inquiry, and so I agreed that we might meet with [Williams] to make clear how he intends to take the inquiry ahead earlier than making a ultimate choice about participating with it.
“They are saying the ‘satan is within the element’ and that’s what we have to see now. We’ve learnt the laborious manner that you just don’t take the phrase of the Publish Workplace or BEIS, however you’ll be able to often depend on the judiciary.”
Second Sight, the forensic accounting agency that carried out in depth examination of the Horizon system, revealing many bugs, additionally refused to interact with the earlier non-statutory inquiry.
Managing director Ron Warmington mentioned that because the modifications to the inquiry, Second Sight would in precept be keen to assist it. “We stand prepared to help, however it will be a tragedy if important questions can’t be requested, not to mention answered, attributable to limitations in scope.”