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‘Shameful’ post office pays hundreds of innocent victims of IT scandal just £10,000 in damages

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Hundreds of victims of the Post Office IT scandal have received an average of just £10,000 in damages, the Daily Mail can reveal.

The payouts, which are comparable to the six-figure losses suffered by many postal workers, were labeled ‘absolutely outrageous’ by politicians last night.

The figure relates to the scheme to compensate postal workers who suffered financial losses but were not prosecuted.

MEPs were also enthusiastic about the separate negotiations for hundreds of victims convicted of crimes and who suffer pecuniary losses – and claim that the approach is also leading to low payouts.

They didn’t offer anything for my ‘criminal’ shame

Jo Hamilton, pictured outside the South Warnborough post office, where she was falsely accused of theft

A grandmother is furious that the post office bosses are trying to “grind” her with low offers for compensation.

Jo Hamilton said she has not been offered anything in the 16 years she has been criminally convicted.

The conversations are confidential, so she cannot reveal what was offered to her. The 64-year-old mother of two ran a post office in South Warnborough, Hampshire, with her landscape architect husband David.

She was forced to plead guilty to a £36,000 deficit after being ‘terrified’ of going to jail due to bullying at the post office.

More than 70 villagers supported her at court and the local pastor vouched for her good character.

The judge put her on probation for a year, during which she was forced to attend rehabilitation meetings with hardened criminals.

Because of her criminal record, she could only work as a cleaning lady for money and she was not allowed to go to her grandchildren’s school.

Ms Hamilton said: ‘They’re just giving me my money back, there’s nothing for what they’ve done to me. I’m not going to accept it. I’ll go back to court if need be. I’m just furious about it.’

Campaigners blamed the post office and ministers for employing “shameful and stingy” tactics. Lord Falconer, a top lawyer and former government minister, criticized the ‘persistent refusal’ to pay ‘appropriate compensation’.

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said the fee should reflect postal workers being “taken from a position of trust and labeled as thieves”.

Tory peer Lord Arbuthnot said: ‘Given the conduct of the Post Office, the compensation should be more than realistic, it should be generous.’

Thirty-three postal workers have died pending justice, including four who committed suicide. Now the Mail can reveal:

  • Less than half of the claims under the official settlement have been settled two years after introduction;
  • The application form is flawed and does not help victims understand the large amounts they may owe;
  • Postal workers have been offered ‘inadequate’ or no funding for legal costs to file their claims;
  • Victims claim that ministers are trying to ‘take us down until we accept something’;
  • Postal workers who have been wrongly convicted of crimes have been given ‘mocking offers’, ‘cutting their claims in half’.

Between 2000 and 2015, more than 3,500 postal workers were prosecuted, fired or forced to pay back money after money ‘disappeared’ from their accounts. It later emerged that dozens of glitches in the computer system, called Horizon, were the cause.

The Mail has spoken with more than a dozen postal workers, legal representatives and campaigners. They say the post office and the ministers in charge have tried to minimize the bill for the scandal.

The first method of winning compensation is a scheme for postal workers who have lost financially, but have not been convicted, called the Historical Shortage Scheme.

By early May, £9.4 million had been paid out to the first 933 postal workers – an average of £10,075 each. Neil Hudgell, who represents dozens of postmasters, said: ‘This seems like a surprisingly low number. Many firmly believe that their continued suffering is still being used as leverage to make ridiculous settlement offers.”

Most victims took offers without legal advice, while those in complex cases were only given a few hours of lawyer time. There are also major concerns about the second route to compensation: harm to postal workers wrongfully convicted of crimes or ‘deliberately’ prosecuted.

Post office lawyers have taken legal advice from a QC to justify paying just £100 a week for the terrifying experience of being sent to jail and the shame of being convicted.

Postmasters have demanded five times what was offered, totaling between £200,000 and £500,000, in addition to compensation for their financial losses.

Lord Falconer called the tactic “absolutely disgraceful.”

He said: ‘These people are entitled to a decent compensation. The post office will never get rid of the problem until they do. The government seems unwilling to fund what is needed for this. The more they mess around to reduce the damage, the more they will level up. It’s a horrible thing.’

Mr Bridgen said: ‘The impact on the postal workers is enormous – they were taken from a position of trust and honesty, as pillars of the community, and labeled as thieves. The compensation should reflect that.’ A post office spokesperson said: “Our priority is to ensure appropriate, meaningful compensation for victims.”

When asked whether the government was doing enough to properly compensate the victims, a spokesman for the Ministry of Affairs said: “The impact the Horizon scandal has had on postal workers and their families is nothing short of appalling.

“That is why we are offering compensation to those affected and we have launched a legal investigation into the scandal to find out what went wrong.”

Prosecuted for theft, but I can’t claim damages

By Tom Witherow

A Dorset postal worker charged with theft and fraud has been barred from winning damages.

Tracey Merritt, 54, who ran a branch in Yetminster, was taken to court in 2009 for a £13,500 shortfall and was publicly disgraced in the local newspaper.

Despite post office attorneys deciding to drop her case, she was unable to work because employers who googled her name saw the long list of charges.

Now Ms. Merritt is barred from damages claims for malicious prosecution. She thinks she’s one of 60 postmasters who could fall through the net.

Tracey Merrit, pictured at home in Wincanton, Somerset, has been barred from winning damages

Tracey Merrit, pictured at home in Wincanton, Somerset, has been barred from winning damages

She said, ‘I lost my business, my reputation, my savings, I lost everything. They should pay that back. I do not have anything. I still have two jobs to make ends meet. No one would hire me because they thought I had these beliefs.

“At the last record, there were 60 of us who have been criminally charged and not prosecuted. But I still had the stigma.’

Compensation talks are confidential, so Ms. Merritt cannot say how much has been offered to her.

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