Horizon victims ‘dying’ waiting for redress ‘bogged down’ in delays – Alan Bates

Campaigners have blamed red tape amid anger over delays for subpostmasters accessing compensation.

Sophie Wingate
Tuesday 16 January 2024 14:17 GMT
Alan Bates, leader of the justice campaign for subpostmasters, giving evidence by video link to the Business and Trade Committee (House of Commons/PA)
Alan Bates, leader of the justice campaign for subpostmasters, giving evidence by video link to the Business and Trade Committee (House of Commons/PA) (PA Wire)

The former subpostmaster who has led the campaign for justice in the Horizon scandal has criticised the “madness” of delays in compensation, saying people are “dying” waiting for payments.

Alan Bates appeared before the Commons’ Business and Trade Committee on Tuesday alongside fellow campaigner Jo Hamilton.

Mr Bates, who was at the centre of the ITV drama that recently catapulted the scandal to the political fore, said financial redress for those affected was “absolutely bogged down in red tape”.

It's gone on for far too long. People are suffering, they're dying

Horizon campaigner Alan Bates

The 69-year-old, who is part of the Group Litigation Order Scheme, said his own compensation process was beset with delays.

“I think it was 53 days before they asked three very simple questions. It’s madness, the whole thing is madness.

“And there’s no transparency behind it, which is even more frustrating. We do not know what’s happening to these cases once they disappear in there.”

Mr Bates, who gave evidence to MPs via video link, said: “There is no reason at all why full financial redress shouldn’t have been delivered by now.

“It’s gone on for far too long. People are suffering, they’re dying, we’re losing numbers along the way. And it just seems to be tied up in bureaucracy. And that seems to be the big problem.”

He said “very few cases have actually gone through” in the current scheme that started in March 2022, adding “it is frustrating, to put it mildly”.

The Government is not putting enough resources into dealing with claims, the campaigning former subpostmaster said, with their lawyers “not happy about working extra hours or working at weekends”.

Ms Hamilton, who was wrongfully convicted in 2008 of stealing thousands of pounds from the village shop in Hampshire, said it was “almost like you’re being retried … it just goes on and on and on”.

She said she was fighting for a group that have still had “virtually nothing”, describing a “factory of bureaucracy that just swallows up paperwork”.

Solicitor Neil Hudgell told MPs only three of his former subpostmaster clients who had been criminally convicted had received compensation.

He said: “Within the convicted cohort of clients that we have, of the 73, three have been fully paid out.”

He told the Business and Trade Committee: “It sounds perverse to say this, but I’m not sure that enough resources are thrown at it in terms of the right results into the right areas.

“For example, routinely with the overturned conviction cases it’s taking three to four months to get a response to routine correspondence.”

Lord Arbuthnot, a member of the Horizon compensation advisory board and a long-time campaigner on the issue, said he wanted the redress process finalised by the end of the year.

“It’s essential for these people who are living hand to mouth, and some of them still bankrupt, that there’s money to be paid as soon as possible,” he said.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake said he was determined to “slim down” bureaucracy for subpostmasters as much as possible.

He welcomed Post Office boss Nick Read’s promise to “streamline” the process “because there was some very concerning evidence … about some of the complexity, some of the delays in responses, that shouldn’t have happened”.

The Government hopes that wronged postmasters might be able to get compensation by August this year, he said.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in