Lawyers and Post Office 'poles apart' on damages for cleared subpostmasters

Appeal verdict for Postmasters at Royal Courts of Justice (Court of Appeal) for Hudgell Law

Appeal verdict for Postmasters at Royal Courts of Justice (Court of Appeal) for Hudgell Law - Credit: Hudgell Law

A former subpostmaster said he is "gobsmacked" to learn the Post Office and lawyers representing many branch managers wrongfully convicted in the Horizon scandal are still "poles apart" on agreeing damages. 

Ian Warren, 75, who ran the post office in Castle Hedingham, was given a six-month suspended sentence at Chelmsford Crown Court in 2009 and ordered to repay £18,000 after being forced to plead guilty to theft to avoid a prison sentence.

However, the punishment was quashed in early 2021 after the High Court heard the Fujitsu computer programme Horizon used by the Post Office contained ‘bugs, errors and defects’.

Ian Warren was ordered to repay £18,000 after being wrongly convicted of theft

Ian Warren was ordered to repay £18,000 after being wrongly convicted of theft - Credit: Sonya Duncan

A year has now passed since 39 subpostmasters had long-standing convictions overturned at the Court of Appeal due to the faulty accounting software, and that number has now climbed to 73.

It has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history. 

Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, who is negotiating with the Post Office on a number of lead cases to establish the value of compensation cases, has said matters are not progressing quickly enough.

He called for early dispute resolution to resolve contentious areas and added: "At the moment though we are poles apart in how we value some of the losses suffered by the subpostmasters.”

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Mr Warren, who now lives near Dereham in Norfolk, has received around £100,000 in compensation so far but said the sum did not cover the damage of being unable to find work after his wrongful conviction. 

He was forced to give up his registration with the Institute of Chartered Accountants due to his conviction, and is still in the process of having it restored.

Ian Warren received a suspended sentence and was ordered to repay £18,000.

Mr Warren said he is 'absolutely gobsmacked' that lawyers and the Post Office are still 'poles apart' on damages - Credit: Sonya Duncan

"I am absolutely gobsmacked to learn that we are 'poles apart', which means that it is going to go on and on and then 'hey presto, the sub-postmaster has died'. It is going to go on and on and it is appalling," Mr Warren said. 

"My kids will get the benefit of the money, but I would like to enjoy some of it as well and it is just an unholy mess."

Neil Hudgell outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Neil Hudgell outside the Royal Courts of Justice - Credit: Hudgell Law

Lawyer Mr Hudgell added: "It is a year since the first convictions were quashed at the Court of Appeal, and even longer for the few whose cases were the first heard in December 2020, so now is an appropriate time to take stock of how compensation claims are panning out for the exonerated subpostmasters.

“All but three have had interim payments, said by the Post Office to have been made ‘to alleviate immediate financial need’. Our clients feel the Post Office has made that sound like they have been doing them a favour.

“They were not, they were handing back money wrongly taken from them in the first place. This money has mostly gone on squaring off debts built up as a result of what they went through, and life’s essentials.

“Our clients want closure, but we are not yet there, and time is not on some peoples’ side.

“We have lead cases going through the system. We are narrowing issues, but not quickly enough. We need a further round of interim payments to settle agreed heads of loss. Otherwise, we run the risk of clients feeling forced to settle under value, just to see some sort of settlement sooner rather than later."