Two former Post Office workers from Shropshire are to receive interim compensation up to £100,000 each after being wrongly convicted following glitches in software.
A total of 59 former sub-postmasters have, as of this week, had their convictions quashed.
The measure, announced to Parliament today, will ensure that affected individuals are not left out of pocket as they and the Post Office work toward full settlements for the immense hardship postmasters have faced.
Rubbina Shaheen from Worthen and Tracy Felstead from Telford were amongst those convicted.
Rubbina was jailed in 2010 for 12 months for false accounting. Having originally been charged with the theft of £40,000 at Greenfield Post Office, the Post Office agreed to drop the charge if she pleaded guilty to false accounting. Mrs Shaheen and her husband were forced to sell their home and live in a van. She served three months of her sentence.
Tracey was a counter assistant working in London and was 18-years-old when she was accused of stealing £11,500 from the Post Office. The charge was denied, but she was convicted in 2001 and jailed for six months.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the convictions were unsafe because they had been based on flawed evidence from the now-discredited Horizon system which was installed in branches during 1999.
The Post Office prosecuted more than 700 sub-postmasters between 2000 and 2014 after a bug in the Horizon electronic point of sale and accounting system led to financial shortfalls in branch accounts.
The Post Office is contacting postmasters and will aim to make an offer for an interim payment within 28 days of receiving an application from those whose overturned convictions relied on Horizon evidence.
Postal Affairs Minister Paul Scully said: “The suffering and distress these postmasters and their families have gone through cannot be overstated.
“While nothing will make up for the years of pain they faced after this appalling injustice, I hope this initial step provides a measure of comfort.
“The Post Office has started to turn a corner in terms of dealing with its past mistakes – and this government will support them in doing so wherever possible.
“The Post Office will continue to work quickly towards final settlements to ensure these postmasters are fairly compensated for the suffering and distress they have gone through.
“The government’s support comes in addition to the financial backing it is providing for the Historical Shortfall Scheme. This scheme was established by the Post Office to compensate postmasters who had to cover shortfalls in their branch’s accounts caused by the Horizon IT system, but were not prosecuted.
“The government will continue to provide strong oversight of the Post Office’s ongoing work to deliver full compensation to postmasters.”
For final compensation, the Post Office is proposing Alternative Dispute Resolution arrangements which aim to facilitate the swift quantification and resolution of compensation claims. However, interim payments announced today do not prevent people from bringing civil claims through the courts.
In May, the Postal Affairs Minister announced that government would put the independent inquiry into the Horizon dispute on a statutory footing. The Inquiry will establish exactly what went wrong at the Post Office and ensure something like this cannot happen again.