The Post Office Horizon Scandal

1 Feb 2024

The Post Office Horizon scandal is an appalling miscarriage of justice – one of the biggest in British history.

From the year 2000, hundreds of sub-postmasters across the country were wrongly convicted, because of faults with the Post Office’s Horizon IT system that it covered up for years. And it took until 2019 for the truth to come out, thanks to the sub-postmasters’ High Court battle and crucial evidence from a whistleblower.

It is now clear that the Post Office lied to the victims, the court and ministers of all parties over a period of 20 years. This was a conspiracy on a grand scale.

An independent, statutory inquiry into the scandal is underway, and the Met Police are now investigating potential criminality by the Post Office.

It is critical now that the inquiry and the police urgently get to the bottom of this, that the Post Office executives responsible are held properly to account, and that sub-postmasters and their families finally get the compensation they deserve.

Sadly, the Conservative Party and their cheerleaders have decided to use this awful tragedy as a political football. Their supporters like Kelvin MacKenzie, disgraced former editor of The Sun, have resorted to lies and smears. Instead of listening to the voices of the victims, they are busy manufacturing political attacks on Ed Davey and other Liberal Democrats who served as Postal Affairs Ministers between 2010 and 2015.

Ed Davey was the first minister to meet with Alan Bates

Ed Davey was one of the 16 postal affairs ministers of all parties who were lied to repeatedly by Post Office executives.

He met Alan Bates - the first Minister to do so - to hear his concerns, asked tough questions of the Post Office, but was given categorical assurances in writing that turned out to be false when a whistleblower came forward years later, in August 2015.

Ed has said that he is deeply sorry that he did not see through the Post Office’s lies, and that it took him five months to meet Alan Bates.

When he became a minister in May 2010, Ed was advised by civil servants not to meet Alan Bates of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance. Just as none of the previous Labour Ministers had met with him or anyone from the campaign in the years before 2010.

Screenshot of the official record of Ed Davey's meeting with the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance

But just five months after becoming a minister, Ed did meet with Alan Bates in October 2010 to hear his concerns. In fact, Ed is the first Minister on record as meeting with Alan Bates. The four Conservative Postal Affairs Ministers from 2015-2019 recorded no meetings with Mr Bates or the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance on their official disclosures.

Source

Ed took Alan Bates’ concerns extremely seriously and put them to the Post Office. The Post Office gave categorical assurances, in writing, but these were the same lies we now know they were telling the sub-postmasters, journalists, Parliament and the courts.

Ed Davey's letter to Alan Bates
Ed Davey was the first Minister on record meeting with Alan Bates, just five months after becoming a Minister.

Source

Blaming a single minister helps no one

Ed was just one of sixteen Post Office Ministers over a span of twenty years.

Alan Bates himself has said that sadly Ed could not have secured justice more quickly for sub-postmasters because of the way the Post Office was acting. Source Mr Bates rejected the idea that Ed should be held responsible any more than other ministers as all ministers have been misled by the Post Office.

Leading Horizon campaigner and former Conservative MP, Lord Arbuthnot has said that Ed Davey has been unfairly singled out. Source

Senior Labour MP Wes Streeting has criticised the Government for trying to ‘sling mud’ at Ed Davey over the crisis, instead of focusing on those with ‘ultimate responsibility’ for the scandal. Source.

 

When the state fails

We have a broken system. A system that puts major institutions like the Post Office at “arms length” from our elected representatives, and makes them almost a law unto themselves. Close enough for rubber stamping, yet out of reach of proper scrutiny.

Even though the Post Office is owned by the government, Ministers have no seat on the board, no involvement in management or day-to-day operations.Lord Forsyth, a lifelong Conservative and one Margaret Thatcher’s most loyal lieutenants, has argued that the problem is a system where ministers who are theoretically accountable for arms-length bodies “are unable to execute responsibility”.

Former Labour Cabinet Minister Andy Burnham has said that ministers are sometimes told lies by officials – as happened to him in the contaminated blood scandal. Source 

This is why Ed said in his New Year’s message: “We must do nothing less than transform the nature of British politics for good.”

 

When the truth emerged

The Post Office’s lies were only exposed years after the end of Ed’s time as a Minister. The true picture finally started to emerge through the sub-postmasters’ court cases. Remote access was described by the High Court judge in Alan Bates’ case as “a very important central element of the whole dispute” but that “The truth concerning remote access has now emerged in 2019” after a whistleblower came forward. Source

Ed and other Liberal Democrat MPs joined campaigners in calling for a full, independent, statutory inquiry into the scandal – even as Conservative Ministers refused.

Eventually, in May 2021, those calls were successful and the current inquiry was established. However, the Post Office is still dragging its feet – delaying the progress of the inquiry by failing to provide crucial documents on time. This Conservative Government must put a stop to that so the inquiry can get to the bottom of this scandal as quickly as possible, and those responsible can be held to account.

 

Ed’s climate work for HSF

Ed’s advisory work for the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), between 2015 and 2021, was exclusively about energy and climate change policy, and was properly declared on the MPs’ register of interests.

Ed had no knowledge that a separate part of this large company, which has thousands of clients, started to represent the Post Office years after Ed started advising at HSF and towards the end of his time there. Ed never had any conversations with anyone at HSF about the Post Office or the Horizon scandal.

He has always been completely transparent about how these earnings go towards supporting Ed and Emily’s severely disabled son John, who needs 24-hour care now and for the rest of his life. Ed has long been campaigning for better support for all carers.