|Paul Scully MP|
Sir Wyn Williams' power-pack upgrade to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry was announced in parliament today by the Business Minister Paul Scully, who said it will now: "be able to compel organisations to provide documents and witnesses to give evidence, under oath if necessary."
He said many more things about it, and I have reprinted the speech Mr Scully gave, and the debate it engendered below. You can also read it here on Hansard.
There have also been changes to the scope of the inquiry, which are listed here. The most interesting sentence says it is the inquiry's job to:
"Understand and acknowledge what went wrong in relation to Horizon, leading to the civil proceedings in Bates and others v Post Office Limited and the quashing of criminal convictions"
"Clearly this is an improvement, but gaps remain. For example, the inquiry will obtain “all available relevant evidence from Post Office Ltd, Fujitsu, BEIS and UKGI” – but there is no mention of those who used to work for Post Office Ltd, Fujitsu, BEIS or UKGI.
A case in point is Susan Crichton, who used to be the Post Office’s legal counsel. Is she covered by this, and does she have a non-disclosure agreement with the Post Office which the Post Office could be obliged to waive? That is far from clear. What about Chris Aujard who replaced her, but who no longer works for the Post Office, or Angela van den Bogerd?
And the huge gap is that of compensation. The Minister may be right to say that an inquiry cannot of itself make legally binding recommendations about compensation, but he is wrong to say that therefore it has to go through the courts. If the government or a government-owned entity behaves badly (let alone as spectacularly badly as both have done in this case), it can and should compensate those whom it has wronged. It doesn’t have to wait to be sued.
Finally, Paul Scully said that he wants to get the Post Office onto a good footing for the future. Yes, we all want to see that, but he won’t achieve that while this burning injustice, and the absurd distinction between compensating those of the 555 litigants who have had convictions overturned but not compensating those who have not or who may not have been convicted, remains."
|Seema, Janet and Tracy|
Paul Scully acknowledged that it was because of the Court of Appeal's recent findings that the inquiry was being upgraded to a statutory footing. Seema Misra, Tracy Felstead and Janet Skinner were three appellants who led the way in requesting the Court of Appeal consider their prosecutions to be an affront to the public conscience, which the court duly did. Today their solicitors, Aria Grace, issued a statement, saying:
"Seema Misra, Janet Skinner and Tracy Felstead listened with interest to the announcement by Minister Paul Scully... and the numerous positive responses and comments of MPs from all parties to that announcement. Between them, our clients waited 44 years for their convictions to be overturned.
They are pleased that the inquiry under Sir Wyn William will now be a statutory inquiry with power to call witnesses. They feel strongly that no one has yet been held to account or even properly investigated for those massive miscarriage of justice which took place over two decades. They hope very much the Enquiry will remedy that
They are disappointed that the Horizon Group damages settlement itself is outside the inquiry’s scope, although note that events leading up to the settlement may be investigated.
Each of them looks forward to giving evidence to Sir Wyn’s enquiry and so helping to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again. The personal damage to each of them and hundreds of others is immense.”
|Sir Wyn Williams|
Sir Wyn Himself posted a very interesting response to the minister's announcement on the inquiry website which included the statement:
"There can be no denying that the judgment of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) in R v Hamilton and others, understood in the context of the judgments of Mr Justice Fraser in the civil litigation between sub-postmasters and Post Office Ltd, has generated important lines of enquiry some of which were previously undisclosed. Against this background, the powers available to a statutory public inquiry are necessary to support a proper assessment of all the relevant facts."
"I also appreciated the apparent change of tone in the Minister's responses today. He seemed a lot more sympathetic towards affected Subpostmasters than in previous despatch box appearances and we have to give [the government] the benefit of doubt and see what they deliver. It is important we keep their feet to the fire as this should have all started last year and could be well on the way to conclusion already. The terms of reference still do not go far enough."
For MPs and campaigners, properly compensating everyone including those who were involved in Bates v Post Office is essential. Chris has a solution:
"The minister, after meeting Nick Read could have said that those 555 Sub Postmasters can enter into the scheme and be calculated as though they hadn't been part of the litigation and will receive the difference from what they have already been awarded - all equal and fair!
The other worry for me is Post Office is controlling this entire scheme without any independent or outside scrutiny and once those in it join and Post Office offers its findings they aren't able to take a legal route. We need an independent oversight by the likes of Second Sight or similar to ensure the Post Office is being fair and above board in its approach (not sure if it has that word in its vocabulary)."
There is an excellent photo of Chris in this Yahoo finance piece which also carries a statement from Paula Vennells welcoming the inquiry. She says:
"It is beyond doubt there are serious and unanswered questions as to the manner in which subpostmasters were wrongly prosecuted.
All those involved in any way have a duty to those subpostmasters and their families, who were innocent victims, to ensure that this can never happen again.”
I can imagine those words will stick in the craw of many people reading this. Current Post Office CEO, Nick Read said:
“There can only be closure for victims of the Horizon scandal by establishing a comprehensive picture of what went wrong.
As I have said previously, Post Office will support and co-operate with any inquiry the Government sees fit to convene, and I welcome the announcement that Sir Wyn Williams’ inquiry will now move to a statutory footing. Post Office will continue to co-operate fully with Sir Wyn and his team.”
"The Department of Business repeatedly rejected my calls for a statutory inquiry until I threatened a judicial review."
"Merely announcing a statutory inquiry is not enough. I and hundreds of other sub-postmasters will not tolerate a toothless and hamstrung inquiry. We will be demanding an inquiry with adequate terms of reference that will allow it to get to the truth and to examine all of the injustices suffered by sub-postmasters and their families."
“I welcome the Government’s announcement that the Post Office Inquiry will now be placed on a statutory footing.However, the terms of reference and scope of the inquiry must be expanded to include the following: Post Office Ltd’s prosecution function, matters of criminal law, the Horizon group damages settlement, the conduct of current or future litigation relating to Horizon and/or the engagement or findings of any other supervisory or complaints mechanisms. Only then does he have a chance of bringing all relevant parties into this review.Moreover, as BEIS owns and directs the activities of Post Office Limited and may be found culpable in many respects, including the conduct of its Ministers who were supposed to be providing oversight, it is it not vital for public confidence that the owner of the Post Office is not also the owner of this Inquiry. It therefore must be passed over to the Ministry of Justice.”
"the language is not overtly explicit about accountability but Sir Wyn has enough to work with within these term of reference, I believe, to establish who the guilty parties are and who knew what and when. I see no reason why he could not make some recommendations to the CPS, as Justice Fraser did, based on some of the things he will extract from his revamped inquiry if he suspects a criminal act has taken place.I think this gives the campaigners what they have been calling for and I hope they all now fully engage with Sir Wyn."
I am very much looking forward to seeing Alice Perkins, Paula Vennells, Mark Davies, Susan Crichton, Alwen Lyons, John Scott, Jarnail Singh, Simon Clarke, Brian Altman et al give evidence, if that comes to pass. I would also like to see some people further down the food chain being cross-examined, too - eg the Post Office investigators who told Subpostmasters they were the only ones having problems with Horizon.
Today's full parliamentary statement and debate follows: