Tuesday 29 September 2020

"Whitewash" inquiry branded "a cynical cop-out by the Government"

Sir Wyn Williams

The government has announced retired judge Sir Wyn Williams will chair its review into the Post Office Horizon scandal. The Williams Inquiry is active as of today.

The minister responsible for setting it up, Paul Scully says:

"It is essential that we determine precisely what went wrong at the Post Office during this period, so we can ensure the right lessons have been learnt, and establish what must change to make sure this cannot happen again.

That is why, having listened to former postmasters, we are expanding the scope of our inquiry to ensure it gathers evidence to build on Mr Justice Fraser’s findings, and have invited a retired High Court judge with a wealth of experience to lead it."

The government says the expansion of the scope of the inquiry from the terms laid down in June includes:

"a new commitment to build upon the findings of the court case by establishing a clear account of the implementation and failings of Horizon over its lifecycle.


"the governance and whistleblowing controls now in place at Post Office Ltd and whether they are sufficient to ensure that the failings that led to the Horizon case do not happen again."

According to the government it is this "additional focus" which allows it to upgrade the review to an inquiry.

Sir Wyn says he can't wait: 

"I am determined that the inquiry will provide the forum for a thorough and rigorous examination of all the evidence presented and that a report will be produced which all participants in the Inquiry and the wider public will recognise as having addressed the terms of reference constructively and in detail.

I fully understand that my engagement with participants in the inquiry will be crucial to achieving my aims."

He could already be doomed to fail, as the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance, led by Alan Bates, is not playing ball. Mr Bates told me:

"Post Office are only bothered about whether it has learnt anything from our exposing the truth. It has no interest in putting right what it has done to individuals over the years, and we have no interest in taking part in its whitewash inquiry."

James Arbuthnot, who has been a tireless campaigner for Subpostmasters caught up in the Horizon scandal, told me he was pleased the government had appointed a retired high court judge to chair the inquiry, as his experience "will be needed", but:

"there has been no change to the nature of the inquiry - it remains non-statutory and has no power to summon witnesses.  Neither has there been a significant change to the terms of reference.  It seems that the roles of the Government and of Fujitsu, both crucial to the awful things inflicted on the subpostmasters, still form no part of these terms of reference, so they remain a cynical cop-out by the Government."

Lord Arbuthnot added:

"This "review" will not get to the bottom of the scandal as the Prime Minister said he wanted to do."

Labour's take on this is very interesting. Ed Miliband, former Labour leader and current Shadow Business Secretary says:

"It's right that the government has finally announced a judge-led inquiry into the Horizon Post Office scandal, which Labour called for months ago. I pay tribute to the campaign of the sub-postmasters to make it happen. We must uncover the truth about how this appalling miscarriage of justice could ever have happened. The victims need answers, but they deserve so much more than that. The inquiry's terms of reference should include how those affected will be compensated for the decades-long ordeal they have endured."

I want to know when the open hearings are going to start. 

There will be open hearings, won't there...?


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