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SNP demand inquiry into Post Office scandal which has seen staff jailed

25 Feb 2020, 09:44 ... e-scandal/

A FULL-scale independent enquiry must be held into a 20-year scandal that has seen Post Office staff bankrupted, fired and even sent to prison, an MP claims.

Post Office Ltd pursued hundreds of its staff over alleged discrepancies in accounts filed through its Horizon IT system. The problems began in 2000 and more than 550 former postmasters will now share £58million settlement after a court ruled that problems with the software could be to blame.

That ruling came in December and Post Office Ltd says it aims to “address historic branch shortfalls for former and current postmasters who were not part of the group litigation settlement”.

As many as 11 people have held the role of UK Business Secretary since the issue was first reported.

Now the SNP is ramping up pressure on current Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Secretary Alok Sharma to call a full-scale independent inquiry into the UK Government’s handling of the row.

In a letter seen by The National, Drew Hendry, the SNP’s Shadow BEIS spokesperson, tells Sharma: “Many of the small business owners providing a much-needed service to our community have been jailed, lost their jobs, their livelihoods, their health and their homes. These sanctions were taken despite numerous complaints about errors, which were met with flat-out denials. This gives rise to a serious question as to whether or not these actions represent an abuse of power.”

He goes on: “As the special shareholder of Post Office Ltd, it is the UK Government’s duty to meet its responsibilities to the network, to sub-Postmasters and the public.”

Hendry, who represents Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, told this newspaper: “The UK Government’s mismanagement of the Post Office network and its handling of the Horizon scandal has raised serious concerns, and it’s vital that steps are taken to prevent it from happening again.

“The Horizon scandal – along with recent figures revealing that Scotland has suffered a net loss of 45 post offices since 2011, with rural areas being hardest hit – serves as a reminder of the urgent need to work to protect the future of the network and its services.

“That is why I have written to the new Business Secretary calling for a long overdue independent inquiry into the management of Post Office Limited.”

Post Office Ltd declined to comment on the inquiry call.

However, a spokesperson said: “The judgments in the group litigation did not address the full circumstances of individual cases and were civil proceedings which could not address questions relating to criminal convictions, which are for the criminal courts. The Criminal Cases Review Commission is investigating a number of applications from former postmasters and we are assisting the Commission to the fullest extent with this complex work, with each case being different in its facts and circumstances.”

Last night The National asked BEIS to respond to Hendry’s letter and its contents. However, no response had been received at the time of going to press.

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