Post Office boss involved in Horizon conviction now managing compensation claims

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Post Office boss involved in Horizon conviction now managing compensation claims

Post by TrueBlueTerrier » ... ms-2962073

Campaigners and MPs say letting Caroline Richards manage claims from sub-postmasters to the Horizon Shortfall compensation scheme is 'outrageous'

Post Office manager Caroline Richards was involved in a Horizon prosecution and now helps manage compensation claims

A Post Office manager who played a key role in the wrongful conviction of a sub-postmistress during the Horizon scandal is now handling victims’ compensation claims, i can reveal.

Campaigners and MPs have said it is “outrageous” that Caroline Richards was given a new position in the Post Office’s Horizon Shortfall compensation scheme, given her previous links to the scandal.

Kevan Jones MP, who has campaigned on behalf of Horizon victims, said it shows the Post Office “just don’t get the sensitivity of these cases” and called for the compensation process to be made completely independent.

Ms Richards, who has worked for the Post Office for more than 30 years, was a “business development manager” in 2009, when she played a significant role in the wrongful prosecution of former sub-postmistress Jacqueline McDonald.

Ms McDonald, a mother of three, was convicted of stealing almost £100,000 from her branch in the village of Broughton, Lancashire, and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

According to a court report in the Lancashire Evening Post, Ms Richards initiated an investigation after discovering the amount of cash being held in Ms McDonald’s safe did not match the amount she had declared in her accounts.

Ms McDonald’s conviction was overturned in 2021 and the case has been examined at the ongoing public inquiry led by Sir Wyn Williams.

In January, Sir Wyn heard how Katie Noblet, an assistant at Ms McDonald’s branch, wrote a letter of complaint to the Post Office describing the behaviour of Ms Richards and investigator Stephen Bradshaw as “unprofessional” and “disgusting”.

In the letter, she stated: “Mr Bradshaw and Ms Richards came to my place of work and asked me if I wanted to make a statement.”

Ms Noblet added: “After a very confrontational five minutes and after Steve didn’t get what he wanted, Steve told Caroline to close the post office.”

Mr Bradshaw, a former lead investigator who remains on the Post Office payroll, has been accused of acting like a “mafia gangster” when securing false convictions against sub-postmasters during evidence to the inquiry.

The inquiry also heard evidence from former sub-postmaster Mohammad Sabir, who said he was interviewed by Ms Richards and investigator Michael Haworth after being suspected of stealing £5,000 due to Horizon software at his branch in West Yorkshire. He was suspended and his contract was later terminated.

There is no suggestion Ms Richards knew the Horizon IT system was faulty at the time of the investigations.

Since December 2021, Ms Richards has been working as a “senior dispute resolution manager” on the Horizon Shortfall Scheme, the fund set up to compensate postmasters who were not criminally convicted but lost money due to the faulty IT system.

Ms Richards is part of a small team which helps administer these claims, with a job description for the role stating it includes “ensuring all cases are investigated or reviewed fairly and impartially”.

Peter Verrechia, a former sub-postmaster who lost £16,000, his home and marriage during the Horizon scandal, spotted Ms Richards’ involvement in Horizon investigations and believes her current role is “inappropriate”.

He told i: “I was just reading some transcripts from the inquiry and I recognised her name. I’ve spoken to her on the phone and via email a few times.

“My first thought was ‘that must be a different Caroline Richards, it couldn’t be the same one’.

“Who on earth thought it was appropriate for her to be in that position?”

Mr Verrechia has been waiting almost two years for compensation and says the process has been “painfully slow”.

Christopher Head, a former sub-postmaster and campaigner for Horizon victims, said: “It’s impossible for someone like Caroline Richards to completely eradicate from her mind what happened with Jacqueline McDonald

“It should be somebody completely independent who has had no involvement [in the Horizon] scandal whatsoever.”

Labour MP Kevan Jones told i the appointment of Ms Richards to a job in the compensation scheme is “outrageous”.

“You couldn’t make it up. It shows the Post Office just don’t get it, especially the sensitivity of these cases” he added.

“It also reinforces my view that they need to be taken out of the [compensation] process.”

It comes amid complaints that a culture of distrust towards postmasters remains “embedded” in the Post Office.

Earlier this year, former chairman Henry Staunton wrote in an email that the two former postmasters on the board as non-executive directors, Saf Ismail and Elliot Jacobs, felt there was a “complete lack of respect for [postmasters]” and that the culture was “toxic”.

Under-fire chief executive Nick Read has previously admitted the Post Office is investigating more than 40 “cases” of alleged inappropriate behaviour by existing employees relating to Horizon.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “Claims in the Horizon Shortfall Scheme are assessed by an independent advisory panel of external experts. There is a full governance process for each and every claim.

“Our sole aim is that every postmaster affected by the scandal receives full and fair redress as swiftly as possible.”

Ms Richards declined to comment.
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