Oral hearings are taking place in Leeds this week for the public inquiry led by Sir Wyn Williams into the Post Office Horizon IT scandal. This is the fourth and final week of vital human impact testimony in this opening phase of the Inquiry.
In previous sessions in London and Cardiff, Sir Wyn has heard first-hand from postmasters whose lives have been deeply affected by this scandal. Their accounts about the impacts on their lives were very moving and no doubt there will be similar evidence this week. I want to hear all of it.
There is likely to be more evidence that the Post Office was historically too insular and too remote. We will hear of time spent in prison by those whose convictions are now quashed, marriages broken and jobs lost. And we will hear how Post Office got things wrong.
When I became Chief Executive in September 2019, I was clear that the Post Office needed to apologise for events of the past and right the wrongs.
When I sat before a Parliamentary Committee in January, I stressed how extremely sorry I was, on behalf of the Post Office, for the impact on the lives of these postmasters that was caused by historical failures. I repeat that apology today.
What happened was unacceptable. The Inquiry will get to the bottom of what went wrong and will help draw a line for some people who have suffered for decades.
The Post Office will do all it can to help the Inquiry achieve that. This will allow us to rebuild confidence in the Post Office to allow us to remain an essential service to communities across the United Kingdom.
We have made good progress to offer redress to those affected by this scandal. The overwhelming majority of the 72 people who have had their convictions overturned have now each received interim compensation payments of £100,000.
Compensation is also being paid for historical shortfalls, which means that postmasters affected by losses related to previous versions of the Horizon IT system can make a financial claim.
We must ensure that all compensation is full, fair and final for those who have already suffered too much.
But more than just righting the wrongs of the past, I have a responsibility to ensure that such things never happen again.
We have made significant changes to the way the business works and are resetting our relationship with our postmasters, upon whom we all depend.
We now have two Non-Executive Director postmasters, elected by other postmasters, on the Post Office Board to influence strategy and ensure the business’ direction is rooted in the reality of postmaster experience.
Operational improvements are making a difference for postmasters from initial appointment and training through to the accounting of daily transactions. While there is still much to do, we have made significant progress.
During the coronavirus pandemic, postmasters across Yorkshire and the rest of the country proved once again how vital they are to every community in the UK. To help them continue to thrive we must make sure we have righted the wrongs of the past.
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