MPs lose faith in Post Office Ltd’s subpostmasters mediation scheme

MPs lose faith in Post Office Ltd’s subpostmasters mediation scheme

Members of the UK’s Parliament who have been fighting the case for subpostmasters caught up in Post Office IT problems have denounced the company’s mediation scheme. James Arbuthnot, the MP leading the group of 140 of his fellow lawmakers supporting the subpostmasters affected by “bugs” in the Post Office’s Horizon IT system, said the whole process has bogged down in “legal wrangling” and he can no longer support it.

The denouncement came after Post Office Ltd said its process had found no fault with its handling of 119 cases in mediation so far.

The mediation scheme was set up in August 2013 by the Post Office to provide redress for subpostmasters who were unfairly treated when problems with the Post Office IT system occurred.

The problems were blamed for thousands of pounds worth of discrepancies in the amount of money Post Office Ltd expected from subpostmasters, which led to some subpostmasters having to hand over money that wasn’t owed, and some subpostmasters even jailed over allegations of fraud.

An investigation by forensic accountancy firm Second Sight found no systematic problem, but did uncover “bugs” in the IT system that did give rise to some incorrect transactions. Previously, the hardware manufacturer Fujitsu had also discovered defects.

More than a year on from the mediation scheme being set up to handle any subpostmasters unfairly treated over the matter, Arbuthnot, the MP for North-East Hampshire who leads the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance, met with Post Office Ltd chief executive Paula Vennells last month.

He said that following the meeting, Vennells wrote to him at the end of the month to refuse to mediate all sub-postmasters’ cases that were recommended for mediation by Second Sight.

Vennells said in her letter that 119 cases had been re-investigated by Post Office Ltd, which had found “no fault with the system” playing a part, and that only “appropriate” cases could go to mediation.

“Legal wrangling”

The MP fired back with a letter that said Post Office Ltd had been the ones to appoint Second Sight to assess the sub-postmasters’ cases, and that the company was now objecting to “around 90% of cases” recommended by the accountants for mediation.

Arbuthnot said of the scheme: “The scheme was set up to help our constituents seek redress and to maintain the Post Office’s good reputation. It is doing neither. It has ended up mired in legal wrangling, with the Post Office objecting to most of the cases even going into the mediation that the scheme was designed to provide. I can no longer give it my support. I shall now be pursuing justice for SubPostmasters in other ways.”

The MP’s letter to the Post Office Ltd chief also highlights his claims that in the company’s mediation scheme, it has been narrowing the scope to agree to mediation only where there have been software bugs involved in discrepancies.

But, he said that as confirmed by ministers, there were wider issues to blame for the discrepancies, including problems with the training of subpostmasters.

Arbuthnot accused Post Office Ltd of going back on its word to mediate cases where subpostmasters had pleaded guilty in court over allegations related to the Horizon system.

Arbuthnot said he is stepping down as an MP at the next General Election in May 2015, and will hand over leadership of the MPs’ group to Kevan Jones MP, the MP for North Durham. He told Vennells: “In any event I could not continue negotiating with you because I have lost faith in the Post Office Board’s commitment to a fair resolution of this issue.

“I shall be pursuing the need for justice for Sub Postmasters in other ways.”

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