Still no compensation in island Horizon case

Police officers and security guards surround former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells as she leaves after her third day of testifying at the Post Office inquiry.(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)Police officers and security guards surround former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells as she leaves after her third day of testifying at the Post Office inquiry.(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Police officers and security guards surround former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells as she leaves after her third day of testifying at the Post Office inquiry.(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
​Legislation which will exonerate sub-postmasters wrongfully convicted of stealing money from the Post Office is making its way through Holyrood and will allow victims to be part of a UK-wide compensation scheme.

However, in one of the few Scottish cases where a wrongful conviction has already been quashed, no compensation has yet been paid. It involves the late Mr William Quarm who ran the sub post-office at Sollas, North Uist.

Although the prosecution system in Scotland leaves decisions to prosecute in the hands of the Procurator Fiscal service, in many cases – including that of Mr Quarm - it failed to challenge evidence from Post Office investigators. In England, the Post Office itself has the power of prosecution.

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Labour spokesman, Michael Marra, called for a wider debate on the powers of Specialist Reporting Agencies and said the Post Office’s “unaccountable power” had stemmed from that status which has now been removed from it.

Alasdair Allan MSPAlasdair Allan MSP
Alasdair Allan MSP

Western Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan, said anyone who was wrongfully convicted as a result of Horizon evidence would be eligible to receive compensation of at least £600,000, once their conviction has been overturned.

He said that “many of those whose wrongful convictions have been overturned, including a constituent of mine, have yet to receive a penny in compensation”. Mr Allan then recounted the case of Mr Quarm whose widow is in that situation.

He said: “Visiting investigators from the Post Office told Mr Quarm—as they, of course, claimed to everyone else in this sorry story—that nobody in the country was having any issues with the Horizon system except him. It has since become very clear that those investigators were incompetent, largely untrained and were telling what now seem to have very clearly been untruths.

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“Mr and Mrs Quarm were prosecuted on the strength of the evidence provided by the Post Office and had their sub-post office taken from them. The attached family-run shop also had to be sold. They lost their family home, much of their croft and their small bed-and-breakfast business. They soon became insolvent as a result.

“Mr Quarm’s health quickly deteriorated, leaving Mrs Quarm to plead for her husband to be allowed to spend his final days in his own home, ahead of that home having to be disposed of. Despite them working for the Post Office for 14 years, it was also decided that Mr and Mrs Quarm should not have anything paid out to them from Mr Quarm’s pension. That decision has—incredibly—never been corrected”.

Mr Allan said: “To date, Mrs Quarm has not received a penny of compensation. Although I understand that the Post Office has offered to make an interim payment, that is yet to be seen, and there is still no sign of those payments being processed.

"At no stage has the Post Office or the UK Government—the sole shareholder in the Post Office—offered any support whatsoever, and the family have had to defend themselves at their own expense”.

The Justice Secretary, Angela Constance, said in response to Mr Allan that she would pursue issues of compensation in response to specific cases raised in the debate.